Jan. 22, 2010
JURY CONVICTS CARTEL ASSOCIATE OF CONSPIRACY TO KIDNAP AND KIDNAPPING
(McALLEN, Texas) – After a two-day trial and one and a half hours of deliberation, a federal jury has convicted a Gulf Cartel associate of kidnapping a Weslaco, Texas, resident and having him transported into Mexico, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. The guilty verdicts, returned yesterday in federal court in McAllen, convicted Luis Alberto Avila-Hernandez (Avila), aka Cua Cua, 28, an illegal alien residing in Weslaco, of conspiracy to kidnap and kidnapping.
In September 2008, investigators with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) became aware the Gulf Cartel had initiated a violent kidnapping scheme in which known drug dealers would be approached and a demand would be made that they align themselves with the Gulf Cartel to sell their narcotics. DPS investigators and the FBI initiated an investigation and soon learned that at least four subjects had been kidnapped, threatened, assaulted, drugged and transported into Mexico to meet with Cartel members.
Investigators learned that one victim, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen referred to hereafter as Daniel, had been kidnapped and was suspected of having been murdered. That investigation ultimately lead to the indictment against Avila and eight others. Four of the eight have pleaded guilty to kidnapping and are pending sentencing. Four others remain fugitives and arrest warrants remain outstanding.
During Avila’s trial, which began on Jan. 19, 2010, several of Avila’s co-conspirators testified. Through testimony, the jury learned the Gulf Cartel had in fact initiated a kidnapping scheme and that Avila had participated in several kidnappings in Hidalgo county. The jury heard testimony that a fugitive co-defendant allegedly ordered the kidnapping of Daniel from Daniel’s place of business in Weslaco and Mission, Texas, areas before being after Daniel rebuked Cartel demands. Avila was tasked to kidnap Daniel because he was responsible for all kidnappings in the McAllen to Weslaco area. Daniel was taken by Avila at gun point and transported to three different locations in the Weslaco and Mission, Texas, area before being transported and delivered to Reynosa, Mexico. Thereafter, according to testimony, a fugitive co-defendant demanded $100,000 for Daniel’s release, of which $40,000 was paid by Daniel’s family. Daniel was murdered after fugitive co-defendants began to suspect that law enforcement had been called in to investigate.
In October 2008, a search warrant was executed at the Mission residence where agents discovered numerous firearms, including a modified .223 semi-assault weapon and a pistol with numerous magazines, ammunition and paint ball equipment. One co-conspirator testified that the paint ball equipment was used to practice simulated kidnapping schemes in order to prepare for the actual kidnapping they intended to commit.
On April 17, 2009, Avila, using the name Mario Lopez and claiming to be illegally in the United States, was approached by law enforcement who later determined his true name. Avila told agents he only performed surveillance while Daniel was being kidnapped. However, the jury heard testimony from three cooperating co-conspirators proving Avila had directed and provided authority and leadership during this and numerous kidnappings including that of Daniel.
Avila faces up to life imprisonment and up to $4 million in fines for each count of conviction.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Robert Wells and Jesse Salazar.
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