WASHINGTON – A member and an associate of the Barrio Azteca (BA) gang each pleaded guilty today to participating in a racketeering conspiracy involving, among other things, the March 13, 2010, murders in Juarez, Mexico, of a U.S. Consulate employee, her husband and the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy for the Western District of Texas, FBI Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division Kevin Perkins and Administrator Michele Leonhart of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Jesus Espino, 43, of El Paso, Texas, and Lorenzo Espino, 51, aka “Lencho,” and “Oso,” of El Paso, each pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Norbert Garney in the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division, to participating in a racketeering conspiracy.
In addition, on Aug. 2, 2011, Roberto Angel Cardona, 33, aka “Little Angelillo,” of El Paso, and his wife, Desiree Gamboa Cardona, 30, of El Paso, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso. Roberto Cardona pleaded guilty to participating in a racketeering conspiracy and Desiree Cardona pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.
According to court documents, the defendants are members or associates of BA, which began in the late 1980s as a violent prison gang and which has since expanded into a transnational criminal organization. The BA is based primarily in west Texas, Juarez and throughout state and federal prisons in the United States and Mexico. The gang has a military-like command structure – including captains, lieutenants, sergeants and soldiers – for the purpose of maintaining power and enriching its members and associates through drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, intimidation, violence, threats of violence and murder.
According to court documents, since Jan. 1, 2003, members and associates of the BA have engaged in a host of criminal activities, including drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, kidnapping and murder, and including the March 13, 2010, murders in Juarez of U.S. Consulate employee Leslie Ann Enriquez Catton, her husband Arthur Redelf and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, the husband of a U.S. Consulate employee.
According to court documents, the BA profits by importing heroin, cocaine and marijuana into the United States from Mexico. BA members and associates also allegedly charge a “street tax” or “cuota” on businesses and criminals operating in their turf. These profits are used to support BA members in prison by funneling the 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.
Based on the terms of the plea agreement, Jesus Espino will receive a 30 year prison term at sentencing. Lorenzo Espino and Roberto Cardono face a maximum penalty of life in prison for racketeering conspiracy, while Desiree Cardona faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in prison on the money laundering charge. Roberto and Desiree Cardona are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 16, 2011, at 9:30 a.m., before U.S. District Judge Cardone. A sentencing date for Jesus and Lorenzo Espino has not yet been set by the court.
Thirty-five members and associates of the BA gang, including the four defendants who have pleaded guilty, were charged in a third superseding indictment unsealed in March 2011 that included various counts of racketeering, murder, drug offenses, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
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 also provided by the Criminal Division’s Offices of International Affairs and Enforcement Operations.
The case was investigated by the FBI. 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.