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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANGELA DODGE

Nov. 17, 2011

PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER
(713) 567-9388

Brownsville Residents Convicted in Corpus Christi Federal Court on Cocaine and Money Laundering Charges

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Five area people have been sentenced for their involvement in a cocaine trafficking and money laundering conspiracy, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Senior United States District Judge Hayden Head handed down the sentences today for the members of this drug and money transportation cell 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.

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. Gomez and Zendejas received sentences of 300 and 235 months, respectively, and will both serve five years of supervised release. Contraband transporter Reyna Ceballos, 21, Zendejas’ niece, was sentenced to 70 months and will also serve a five-year-term of supervised release, while David Alcala, 30, Gomez’s “right hand man” at the auto shop/stash location received a 90-month-term of imprisonment to be followed by four years of supervised release. Sentencing for contraband transporter Julio Gonzalez, 45, Ceballos’ father, was reset for Dec. 1, 2011.

According to pleadings filed of record n the case, 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.

The defendants were arrested on March 2, 2011, by investigating agents executing arrest warrants which issued following the return of the four-count indictment Feb. 23, 2011. The indictment was superseded on March 23, 2011, to include an additional count and notice of criminal forfeiture. Gomez, Zendejas, Ceballos, Gonzalez and Alcala all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Gomez also entered a plea of guilty to conspiracy to launder monetary. Gomez and Alcala agreed to the forfeiture of $524,910 in United States currency which was seized on March 2, 2011, during their arrests. These defendants have been in custody since their arrests where they will remain pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Another co-defendant, Vanessa Weaver, 28, who previously entered a plea of guilty on April 14, 2011, to federal charges relating to her role as bulk cash transporter for this cell, is currently a fugitive. Anyone with information regarding her whereabouts is asked to contact Immigrations and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI)  at 361-888-3501.

The Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, dubbed Operation Stained Glass, prompting the criminal charges was conducted in Corpus Christi. Lead by ICE-HSI, 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.