DEA nabs 4 Mexican drug cartel leaders

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The leadership of a Mexican drug cartel operating in Dallas has been dismantled by a Drug Enforcement Administration-led task force with guilty pleas from four U.S.-based cell leaders and two associates tied to La Familia, a violent Mexico-based gang that killed 20 Mexican federal police and military officers in attacks last year.

Cell leaders Ricardo Hernandez-Cruz, 37; Edgar Gomez-Huerta, 31; Balmer Valencia Bernabe, 34; and Martin Alvarado-Cruz, 33, have pleaded guilty as part of a continuing law enforcement initiative known as Project Coronado, in which nearly 100 La Familia members tied to a drug smuggling and distribution operation in Dallas were arrested. All four await sentencing in U.S. District Court.

La Familia, or “the Family,” is one of the Mexican government’s highest priorities in its often deadly war against drug-trafficking gangs. Formerly allied with the infamous Gulf cartel, it split off on its own in 2006. Its boss, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, has preached his gang’s divine right to strike its enemies.

The DEA-led task force penetrated the Dallas organization, according to court records, documenting the receipt and distribution of methamphetamine and cocaine from associates in La Familia’s home territory of Michoacan in southwestern Mexico.

“Project Coronado, our massive assault on the La Familia cartel, is part of our continued fight against all of the powerful Mexico-based drug cartels,” DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said Wednesday. “This organization, the newest of Mexican cartels, is directly responsible for a vast majority of the methamphetamine pouring into our country across our southwest border and has had a hand in fueling the cycle of violence that is wracking Mexico today.”

Also pleading guilty in the investigation were Miguel Ruiz Gonzalez, who admitted assisting Hernandez-Cruz launder drug money, and Reymundo Rendon-Alvarado, a distributor who admitted in court to handling more than 50 kilograms of methamphetamine, worth more than $2 million, for Hernandez-Cruz since 2008.

The DEA identified two other cell leaders in the Dallas operation as Carlos Paz Lopez and Jose Luis Reyes-Tavera, both of whom have been listed as fugitives. The gang bosses and members were arrested on U.S. charges outlined in 10 federal indictments and several criminal complaints.

In highly publicized incidents last year, La Familia members launched a series of attacks against Mexican federal police officers and military members following the arrests of some of its high-level members, including Arnoldo Rueda-Medina and Miguel Angel Berraza-Villa.

In one incident, La Familia killed a dozen federal anti-drug agents in an ambush and dumped their bodies on a mountain highway. A note said, “We will be waiting for you here.” Six federal police officers and two soldiers also were killed in attacks on police stations and at hotels where the anti-drug agents were staying.

DEA Special Agent James Capra, who heads the agency’s Dallas field office, said the cell leaders received monthly shipments of methamphetamine from upper-level members of the La Familia organization in Mexico, and it then was distributed throughout northern Texas.

According to plea documents filed in the case, beginning in March 2008, a methamphetamine and cocaine supply source in Mexico began importing multikilogram shipments of both methamphetamine and cocaine into the U.S. through border checkpoints near Laredo, Texas.

Couriers hired by the drug suppliers in Mexico delivered the drugs, and once they arrived, they were taken to various stash houses in the area until they could be distributed to buyers.

The plea documents said the cell leaders routinely used cell phones to negotiate the distribution and sale of both cocaine and methamphetamine with customers and that they collected thousands of dollars in cash in drug proceeds from customers - relying on other co-conspirators to transport the cash to his supply source in Mexico.

Gomez-Huerta acknowledged in court as part of the plea agreement that he distributed more than $2.3 million in methamphetamine and cocaine during the conspiracy.

Project Coronado agents seized more than 1,650 pounds of methamphetamine, 140 kilograms of cocaine, $3.1 million in cash, 150 firearms and more than $1 million in other assets, including vehicles, boats, all terrain vehicles and campers.

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