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July 22, 2009

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(HOUSTON) - A federal jury has convicted four Rio Grande Valley men of distributing more than 200 kilograms of cocaine and laundering millions in drug proceeds, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. The convictions were handed down yesterday in Houston.

Mariano Alvarez, 44, of Rio Grande City, Texas, Eden Flores Sr., 48, and brothers, Guadalupe Hernandez, 45, and Abraham Hernandez, 43, all of Mission, Texas, were convicted late yesterday afternoon of conspiracy to and possession with intent to distribute more than 217 kilograms of cocaine. Alvarez and Flores were also convicted of a conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Alvarez was found guilty of laundering $2,279,995 in drug proceeds. 

During the nine-day trial, the jury learned that between January 2005 until February 2007, these defendants used hollowed out medical oxygen tanks to transport cocaine from Alvarez Road in Rio Grande City to the McAllen-Mission area. The modified medical oxygen tanks were transported in commercial vehicles that were specifically designed to transport hazardous materials. Two of the tanks, which were seized, contained a total of 217 kilograms of cocaine. According to the testimony and evidence, Alvarez acted as the “pasadores” or crosser for cocaine from Mexico through the Rio Grande City area to the McAllen-Mission area. Abraham Hernandez introduced the driver of the oxygen tanks into the conspiracy, and he and his brother, Guadalupe Hernandez, shared in the payments received by the driver for transporting cocaine. Prior to and after the seizure of the cocaine transported in the oxygen tanks, Flores, Guadalupe and Abraham Hernandez conspired to use UPS to ship cocaine in packages.

Both Flores and Alvarez was convicted of conspiracy to launder drug money. Alvarez was also convicted of substantive counts relating to his transport of $279,995 in drug proceeds from Dallas to Freer, Texas, secreted in a spare tire in April 2005 as well as $2 million dollars in drug proceeds he agreed to transport from Mission, Texas, to Mexico. The jury acquitted both Alvarez and Flores of a substantive money laundering count relating to the transport $35,000 from the Rio Grande City area of Texas to Mission, Texas, to be used as bond for an arrested co-conspirator. Alvarez was also acquitted of another count alleging he had laundered more than $400,000.   

This is the second trial of these defendants on these charges. The first trial, which began in November 2008 in McAllen, Texas, ended in a mistrial in December 2008.

Eden Flores Sr., according to testimony during trial, was the owner of the La Tejana Meatmarkets and La Tejana Steakhouse in the McAllen area. Alvarez owned Girisoles Construction and a large ranch in Rio Grande City.

U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane, who presided over both trials, has set sentencing for Sept. 23, 2009. All five defendants face no less than 10 years up to life imprisonment and a $4 million fine for the drug conspiracy and substantive drug count convictions. Alvarez and Flores also face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for their money laundering convictions.

The investigation leading to the arrest and federal charges of Alvarez, Flores, and the Hernandez brothers was conducted by agents of Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Texas Department of Public Safety, police departments in Mission, Weslaco and Pharr along with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the Central South Texas Narcotics Task Force. 
The case was tried by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesse Salazar.