Milwaukee, WI – Federal prosecutors argued at a hearing in November that Gilberto Hernandez-Ordunez should be locked up before trial, noting he faced decades in prison on a cocaine charge and was likely to flee to Mexico because he was in the U.S. illegally.
Federal law presumes someone like Hernandez-Ordunez, who was found with 15 kilograms of cocaine brought to Milwaukee sealed in metal elevator parts, should be locked up.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin saw the case differently. He released the 34-year-old on a signature bond with no electronic monitoring, noting he had no criminal history, was employed and had strong family ties to Milwaukee.
Now, U.S. marshals are hunting for Hernandez-Ordunez after he failed to show for court last week and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Duffin did not return a call for comment Friday. Michael Klug, the head of federal probation services in Milwaukee, which assesses flight risk and recommended Hernandez-Ordunez be released, also did not return a call for comment.
Edward Hunt, Hernandez-Ordunez’s attorney, said Friday he had no comment on the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Domaszek did not return a call for comment.
Hernandez-Ordunez and Alfredo Romo, 47, who also has been in the U.S. illegally, were indicted in December on a charge of possession with intent to deliver five kilograms or more of cocaine.
After the pair were indicted, Hernandez-Ordunez made his first appearance in court with nearly 20 family members there in support.
The pair were due in court Jan. 29. Hernandez-Ordunez was a no-show. Romo, still in custody, was brought to court and indicated he was going to enter a guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, according to court records.
Hernandez-Ordunez was arrested two years ago by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was released but is required to report regularly to ICE, a spokeswoman said in December. The spokeswoman said Friday there was no new information.
The federal criminal complaint says Hernandez-Ordunez and Romo were involved in a drug-dealing operation that was bringing dozens of kilograms of cocaine into Milwaukee, hidden inside elevator shaft parts and delivered by semitrailer trucks to a warehouse on the city’s northwest side.
Each load was 20 to 60 kilograms — or 44 to 130 pounds — of cocaine, sealed in the elevator parts coming from California. It took a metal-cutting torch to get the drugs out. The cocaine was stashed at businesses on the south side and sold.
Agents arrested Hernandez-Ordunez and Romo after they found 15 kilograms of cocaine in the trunk of their car.
At the pair’s first hearing on Nov. 20, Duffin ordered both of them detained, saying it was because they were illegal immigrants.
But he came to a different conclusion on Hernandez-Ordunez four days later, when a full bond study was done.
The Nov. 24 detention hearing focused on Hernandez-Ordunez’s status. Romo, who had a warrant for his arrest from an old case, agreed to remain behind bars.
Domaszek argued Hernandez-Ordunez should be locked up because the case against him was strong and the risk of flight was high because of the prison time he faced and his ties to Mexico.
Hunt countered that his client had an incentive to stay to clear his name.
“I respectfully disagree with the comment that he is a serious flight risk,” Hunt said in court. “He has every reason to fight these charges.”
Duffin agreed the government had a good case. And while it was a “close call,” he said he was releasing Hernandez-Ordunez because of his work history as a painter, a clean criminal record and family ties.