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Top Mexican gang boss gets life sentence

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One of the top bosses of a Mexican gang tied to more than 1,500 killings during a terror campaign along the U.S.-Mexico border - including the fatal ambush of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another consulate worker - has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said Wednesday that Roberto Angel Cardona, also known as "Little Angelillo," was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas, in his August 2011 guilty plea to charges of racketeering conspiracy.

"This sentence reflects the severity of Roberto Cardona's crimes as a leader of the brutal Barrio Azteca gang, as well as his individual acts of violence and drug trafficking," Mr. Breuer said. "On both sides of the border, Barrio Azteca gang members use violence, intimidation and fear to further their illegal activities."

According to testimony presented at sentencing, Cardona was a top leader in the Barrio Azteca gang, where he helped distribute heroin and cocaine, and extorted funds that were sent to fellow gang members in prison.

The testimony showed that Cardona ordered beatings of fellow gang members, personally assaulted a drug dealer who would not pay extortion money, and ordered extortions, assaults and kidnappings.

Witnesses said he also imported large quantities of drugs that were sold to retail drug dealers.

According to court documents and testimony, Barrio Azteca members and associates committed the March 13, 2010, killings in Juarez of U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton; her husband, Arthur Redelfs; and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a U.S. Consulate employee.

The documents and testimony showed that the gang profited by exporting heroin, cocaine and marijuana to the U.S. from Mexico, with Barrio Azteca members and associates charging a "street tax" or "cuota" on businesses and criminals operating on their turf. The profits paid for defense lawyers or fines and were used to support gang members in prison by funneling money into commissary accounts.

The profits also were reinvested into the organization to purchase drugs, guns and ammunition, the documents said.

Thirty-five gang members and associates, including Cardona and 18 others who pleaded guilty, were charged in a third superseding indictment unsealed in March 2011 with various counts of racketeering, murder, drug offenses, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Trial in that case is set to begin April 6.

Enriquez, 25, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, and her husband, Redelfs, 30, were U.S. citizens. They were killed when Barrio Azteca drug gang members fired shots at their sport utility vehicle as the couple left a birthday party. Redelfs was a 10-year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. Enriquez was four months pregnant with the couple's second child. Their 7-month-old daughter was found unharmed in the back seat.

That same day, Salcido, 37, a Mexican citizen whose wife also was an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, was killed when cartel members shot at his car at a separate location, also wounding his two young children. They had attended the same birthday party.

U.S. law enforcement authorities said Barrio Azteca began in the late 1980s as a violent prison gang and expanded into a transnational criminal organization based primarily in West Texas. The gang also operates in the border town of Juarez and throughout state and federal prisons in the U.S. and Mexico.

"This sentence is a powerful step taken against trans-border violence, one that the FBI's El Paso field office has taken with partners at the federal, state and local levels," said FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins, who heads the bureau's Criminal Division. "Gangs like the Barrio Azteca represent threats to both Mexico and the United States, and together we have supported each other to investigate and prosecute criminals who affect us on both sides of the border."

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