WASHINGTON – A Barrio Azteca (BA) gang leader was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his participation in a racketeering conspiracy, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas, FBI Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division Kevin Perkins and Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Roberto Angel Cardona, aka “Little Angelillo,” of El Paso, Texas, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division. Cardona pleaded guilty on Aug. 2, 2011.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “On both sides of the border, Barrio Azteca gang members use violence, intimidation and fear to further their illegal activities. Lengthy prison sentences are an appropriate consequence and should cause would-be gang members to think twice about participating in such destructive activities.”
“The violent activities of Barrio Azteca members are representative of the dangers of drug trafficking,” said U.S. Attorney Pitman. “This sentence represents our response and our continued dedication to fighting senseless acts of violence and organized drug dealing in our communities.”
“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 Perkins. “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.”
“The sentencing of Barrio Azteca leader Robert o Cardona is a victory for both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart. “Together, we will relentlessly pursue violent drug organizations, their leaders and gang members who brutally destroy lives on both sides of the border.”
According to court documents and testimony, the BA gang began in the late 1980s as a violent prison gang and has expanded into a transnational criminal organization. The BA is primarily based in West Texas; Juarez, Mexico; and throughout state and federal prisons in the United States and Mexico.
According to court documents and testimony, members and associates of the BA have engaged in a host of criminal activity committed since Jan. 1, 2003, including drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, kidnapping and murder, including the March 13, 2010, murders 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 BA profits by importing heroin, cocaine and marijuana into the United States from Mexico. Gang members and associates also charge a “street tax” or “cuota” on businesses and criminals operating in their turf. These profits are used to support gang members in prison by funneling money into prison commissary accounts of gang leaders and to pay for defense lawyers or fines. The “cuota” profits are also allegedly reinvested into the organization to purchase drugs, guns and ammunition.
According to testimony presented at sentencing, Cardona was a leader in the Barrio Azteca gang. Specifically, he was the El Paso BA leader in 2010 until he was arrested on drug charges on April 30, 2010. He also participated in the BA’s activities by distributing narcotics, including heroin and cocaine, and collected extortion funds that were sent to the commissary accounts of fellow BA members in prison. One witness testified that Cardona ordered beatings of fellow BA members and personally assaulted a drug dealer who would not pay extortion money. Witnesses testified that BA members used weapons in the course of violence and regularly carried guns at meetings.
At sentencing, a witness testified about personally attending a meeting where Cardona ordered extortions, assaults and kidnappings. The witness testified that Cardona contacted him for the purposes of kidnapping someone in El Paso and delivering him to Juarez. According to testimony, Cardona arranged for the witness and others to meet with the victim, assault him, drug him, bind him and transport him to Juarez. The court also found that Cardona's offense involved more than 30 kilograms of heroin and 150 kilograms of cocaine. Cardona directly imported large quantities of these drugs and sold them to retail drug dealers.
Thirty-five members and associates of the BA gang, including Cardona and 18 others who have 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 is set to begin April 6, 2012.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Joseph A. Cooley of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, Trial Attorney Brian Skaret of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Texas - El Paso Division. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico provided significant assistance in this case, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Davenport. Valuable assistance was provided by the Criminal Division’s Offices of International Affairs and Enforcement Operations.
The investigation in this case was led and conducted by the FBI’s El Paso Field Office. Special assistance was provided by the DEA; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Federal Bureau of Prisons; U.S. Diplomatic Security Service; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; El Paso Police Department; El Paso County Sheriff’s Office; El Paso Independent School District Police Department; Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission; New Mexico State Police; Dona Ana County, N.M., Sheriff’s Office; Las Cruces, N.M., Police Department; Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility and Otero County Prison Facility New Mexico.