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Fresno Man Cops Plea in Interstate Marijuana Ring

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A third member of an interstate marijuana shipping ring pleaded guilty on Monday morning in Fresno federal court.

In a plea deal, Elias Zambrano Jr., 41, of Fresno, admitted to his involvement in the operation, according to a news release from acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.

He entered guilty pleas to conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

According to court documents, in November 2018, Zambrano’s co-defendants coordinated the shipment of nearly 500 pounds of marijuana from Fresno to Kansas City, Missouri.

The shipment was seized from Halen Frazier, of Kingsville, Missouri, during a traffic stop after Tien Van Phan, of Milpitas, delivered 92 pounds of marijuana to him in two suitcases at a hotel in Kansas City.

Stopped for Broken Tail Light

As part of his plea agreement, Zambrano admitted helping Patrick Maldonado, of Madera, to pack 384 pounds of marijuana for a second shipment placed in a hidden compartment in a trailer.

David Agustus McGowan, of Kansas City, drove the truck that towed the trailer. Arizona troopers seized the load after stopping McGowan for a broken trailer tail light.

In addition to the marijuana, troopers seized $1,629 in cash.

After securing a search warrant for Zambrano’s residence, agents found two loaded firearms, packaged bags of processed marijuana, and a money counter. Zambrano has agreed to forfeit the firearms, ammunition, and magazines taken during the search.

Two Other Defendants in Prison

Frazier and Phan previously pleaded guilty. Frazier received two years in prison; Phan got a sentence of three-and-a-half years. Charges are pending against other accused ring members.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email