April 26, 2011
MEMBERS OF COCAINE AND CASH TRANSPORTATION CELL CONVICTED
(CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) – Five members including the principal leaders of a drug and money transportation cell based in Brownsville, Texas, have been convicted for their respective roles in a conspiracy responsible for smuggling into the U.S. and transporting hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Brownsville to Atlanta, Georgia and Dallas as well as millions of dollars in drug proceeds received from those northern points to Mexico, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
Arturo Gomez, 31, was one of the leaders of this cell and the owner and operator of an auto shop in Brownsville which was used as a receiving/delivery and loading point for cocaine and drug proceeds. Magda Zendejas, 28, was a manager in the group responsible for recruiting drivers for load vehicles. At a hearing yesterday, Gomez and Zenejas pleaded guilty before Senior United States District Judge Hayden Head for their involvement in a cocaine trafficking and money laundering conspiracy as alleged in the indictment. Also pleading guilty yesterday were Reyna Ceballos, 21, Zendejas’ niece and contraband transporter, Julio Gonzalez, 45, Ceballos’ father and also a contraband transporter, and David Alcala, 30, Gomez’s “right hand man” at the auto shop/stash location. A sixth defendant, Vanessa Weaver, 28, pleaded guilty last week on April 14, 2011, to federal charges relating to her role as bulk cash transporter for this cell.
The defendants, all of Brownsville, were arrested on March 2, 2011, by investigating agents executing arrest warrants which issued following the return of a four-count indictment against the men and women Feb. 23, 2011. The indictment was superseded on March 23, 2011, to include an additional charge and notice of intent to criminally forfeit any interest these defendants may have in $524,910, which the government alleges constitutes the proceeds of their drug trafficking activity, were obtained with drug trafficking proceeds or were used to facilitate the criminal activity.
According to pleadings filed with the court yesterday, Gomez - with the assistance of Alcala - operated an auto shop called Arizpe Auto Glass located on the 3800 block of N. Expressway in Brownsville in or about 2009. The shop was moved to the 2400 block of E. 14th Street in Brownsville following the arrest of two drivers with a load of cocaine in July 2009 and then renamed and re-located yet again to Arezpe No. 1 State Inspection and Auto Glass located on the 2000 block of Southmost Road in Brownsville. The auto shop was in actuality a stash house for cocaine smuggled into the United States by other members of the transportation group in hidden compartments in a variety of vehicles as well as the collection point for proceeds generated by the sale of the contraband in Atlanta, Georgia and Dallas. At the auto shop, Gomez received cocaine smuggled in by Zendejas as well as transporters recruited by her. Between 2009 and 2011, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine were loaded onto vehicles either sent by the distributer in Atlanta or in vehicles obtained by members of this transportation cell for delivery to points north and further distribution. Millions of dollars in drug proceeds were delivered to the auto shop by members of the transportation cell to be smuggled into Mexico.
Gomez, Zendejas, Ceballos, Gonzalez and Alcala were all convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Based upon the amount of the cocaine allegedly smuggled and transported by this group, each defendant faces no less than 10 years up to life imprisonment. Gomez was also convicted of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. Weaver pleaded guilty to and was convicted of bulk cash smuggling and faces a maximum of five years in prison. As part of their plea agreements, Gomez and Alcala have agreed to the forfeiture $524,910 seized on March 2, 2011, during their arrests.
During the course of this investigation, agents have seized and administratively forfeited approximately $1,300,000. The $524,000, seized on the day of Gomez’s arrest, is being forfeited criminally. In real property to date, a civil suit has been filed to forfeit a 38-acre tract in Commerce, Ga., worth $700,000 and other actions against real property are anticipated. In addition, approximately 20 vehicles conservatively estimated at more than $300,000 have been seized to date and administratively forfeited to the United States.
Weaver is to be sentenced on June 30, 2011 at 1:30 p.m., while the remaining defendants are set for Aug. 4, 2011 at 9:00 a.m. With the exception of Weaver who is on bond, all other defendants are in federal custody without bond and will remain in custody pending sentencing.
The Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, dubbed Operation Stained Glass, prompting the criminal charges was conducted in Corpus Christi. Lead by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations, the joint investigative effort included agents of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Marshals Service and invaluable assistance from Customs and Border Protection and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Julie K. Hampton.
# # #