Grandmother Receives Life In Prison For First-Time Drug Offense


The federal government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off†crime.

But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life, without the possibility of parole.

Three years ago, Elisa Castillo entered into an unusual business arrangement at the urging of her boyfriend: a Mexican businessman agreed to partner with her to purchase three tour buses that would travel between Mexico and Houston. He fronted the money for the buses, but they were kept in her name. Castillo claims she was unaware the buses were also fitted with secret compartments enabling them to smuggle cocaine across the border, but she was convicted nonetheless.

Locked Up For Life Because She Couldn’t Trade Valuable Information

And now she is locked up for life.

As the ACLU explains, Castillo likely received this harsh sentence entirely because she played a very minor role in the operation:

… Castillo maintains that she didn’t know she was being used as a pawn in a cocaine trafficking operation between Mexico and Houston. Given her alleged role as a low-level player in the conspiracy, it makes sense that she was not privy to — and therefore could not provide — any valuable information to federal agents that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of the leaders or other high level members of the alleged conspiracy. Since she was of no help to the government, Castillo received the harshest sentence of the approximately 68 people involved in the scheme …

From The Houston Chronicle:

Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their†capture.

The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient†sentences.

Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make A Deal.

Obviously, something is wrong with a criminal justice system that sends a 56-year-old grandmom for prison for life for her first-ever drug offense.

Castillo Refused To Plead Guilty, Instead Went To Trial

Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and instead went to†trial. It is well known that state and federal sentencing schemes allow for reduced punishment when offenders are able to provide information that leads to the prosecution of others. Since Castillo had nothing to offer, she was penalized the most.

In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas – a region that reaches from Houston to the border – 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Of the defendants who didn’t plead not guilty, 10 defendants were acquitted at trial. Also, 82 saw their cases†dismissed.

The statistics are similar†nationwide.

An Unjust Justice System

While it is true that Castillo likely acted foolishly by entering into the strange business arrangement in the first place, her case highlights how high criminal sentences for drug offenses enhances the prosecutionís bargaining power often at the expense of individuals left to spend years or decades in prison for drug crimes.

Castillo’s sentence is outrageous, especially in the light of the brutal murders being carried out daily in Mexico by the leaders of drug cartels, who remain at large. Where is the justice in that?

The United States justice system needs some major revamping in order to get its priorities right.


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Photo Credit: :Dar


Annmari Lundin
Annmari L5 years ago

Too little ionformation for me to have any opinion.

Stanley Rampersad
Stanley Balgobin5 years ago


Ralph Henderson
Ralph Henderson5 years ago

Not many facts about the actual trial, but it seems clear they didn't prove she knew it was anything more than a bus service.
Naive yes, but that would be common enough and not something punishable by law.
The fact is they have to prove a person is guilty, not make a person prove innocense.
Unless a lot was left out of the artiicle, she shouldn't be going to jail at all.

Pamela B.
Pamela B.5 years ago

Very little in life is black or white. Does her age matter? I don't think so; she committed a crime. Does she deserve life without possibility of parole? I don't think so;there are tons of criminals serving life sentences for horrendous crimes who do get paroled. Is she a patsy for her "boyfriend"...I think so. Is this man going to be punished? I doubt it; he no doubt has all the money he needs to pay off anyone he wants to in Mexico with the backing of the drug cartel. Will she be able to fund a new trial? I doubt it. Is she another stupid woman who thinks she can get a lot of money for almost no effort? Yes. And is she also the same stupid woman who also is persuaded into it because she thinks this guy cares about her? Yes. For all of you who do take a black or white position, there are studies out there that show that proportionately more women than men are in prison than men for just this kind of crime. Why??? Because women are manipulated and land in jail while the men involved set up escape methods to avoid being caught. Don't bother to respond to my comment because I get it. I am not an either or person.

Allie Y.
Allison Y5 years ago

My coworkers were shot at by a 17 year old drug smuggler two days ago. Do people that use, "recreational" drugs think about things like this? Likely not. As always, I am sure there is a lot more to this story. And just because she is a grandmother (i.e. had a kid that had a kid) does not make her any less guilty.

Dominic C.
Dominic C5 years ago

NO! The ACLU should not waste time on issues like this. This is no aunty or grandma. She is a ruthless drug mafia and trafficker. God knows how many people she had contracted to kill across the border to ward off competition.

Carole H.
Carole H5 years ago

I am very disappointed by the lack of empathy in the majority of these comments - to me the only 'crime' this woman committed was to trust and be deceived by a man, of which she is not the first, and unfortunately will not be the last. Neither is she the first, nor again unfortunately will she be the last, to pay a disproportionate price for her credulity under the american legal system. I hope she can appeal and gets good counsel - good luck to her I say.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

That's the way the ball bounces

Maitreya L5 years ago

Elaine Said: "SORRY Michelle B. DUH!!! she;s trafficking a ton of cocaine........Ask yourself the REAL question, how many kids are going to die as a result of her first offense, going to die as a result of it?"

The lady was a minor accessory to the smuggling. Besides all illegal drugs combined kill around 17,000 people a year in the US, prescription drugs kill over 100,000 a year, Tobacco kills over 400,000 a year. Should we arrest doctors, and store clerks and throw them in prison for life too? Use your brain.

Maitreya L5 years ago

A middle age acquaintance once turned a blind eye when a friend sold a small quantity of cocaine at his house. He got no money from it or anything, but unfortunately he was honest with the police when they questioned him later, and he spent several years in prison, and lost his business. He was a white guy, so he didn't get a life sentence like this lady, but still rather harsh.

The drug war is a total scam, and the American justice system leaves much to be desired, particularly with the excessive sentences given to minorities.

The chief of Enron got 24 years, and his crimes involved billions and he was the leader.