Department of Justice Logo and United States Attorney's Office Header
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANGELA DODGE

March 15,, 2012

PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER
(713) 567-9388

Member of Gulf Cartel Arrested…Again

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Juan Carlos De La Cruz Reyna, 37, has been arrested on charges of bribery, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. De La Cruz had been convicted of two counts of threatening to assault and murder federal agents in 2009 and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Set to be released on the previous charges this month, he and six others are accused of bribing a federal officer in attempt to secure safe passage back to his home country of Mexico.

According to the criminal complaint, in or about May 2011, Julio Torres, 39, of Brownsville, Texas, began negotiations with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) undercover agent regarding making bribery payments to facilitate a transfer of De La Cruz to a Texas facility as well as his release to elements of the Gulf Cartel instead of Mexican authorities. Torres and De La Cruz believed the Mexican government had additional criminal charges against De La Cruz and Torres allegedly stated he and others would pay additional money to ensure De La Cruz would not be turned over to Mexican authorities upon his removal to Mexico. Torres also claimed De La Cruz and his associates were fearful that if De La Cruz were to be deported to another Mexican location, apart from Ports of Entry in Tamaulipas, rival drug cartels may abduct him, according to allegations in the criminal complaint.  

The agent received an initial payment of $4,000 from Torres to begin the process of transferring De La Cruz to Texas. De La Cruz placed a phone call to the agent to discuss his transfer and confirm the payment at which time De La Cruz then gave permission to continue making arrangements for his transfer. On June 28, 2011, the agent met with Torres who introduced Mexican National Adalberto Nunez-Venegas, 39, as the person sent by De La Cruz to oversee all future negotiations and payments. Over the next several months and leading up to the filing of the criminal complaint, Torres and Nunez made an additional eight cash payments totaling $542,090. In addition, six real estate properties had been signed over to the agent to provide collateral for the final payment of $460,000.

De La Cruz had also allegedly told the agent that he wanted to see a copy of his immigration detainer as further proof he would be transferred back to Texas prior to removal to Mexico. In September 2011, another ICE-HSI special agent, acting in an undercover capacity, provided De La Cruz a copy of his immigration detainer and in January 2012, the same agent met with him to go over the final plans for the transfer to Texas.    

In February 2012, Torres allegedly introduced Carlos Melo, 38, of Brownsville, Texas, as an associate involved in these negotiations and assisting Torres. According to the complaint, Melo assured the agent he was aware of the bribery scheme, that the agent was a law enforcement officer and that Melo was assisting the rest of the conspirators to help De La Cruz. During a discussion of the future release of De La Cruz, Torres allegedly told the agent Melo would be a driver during the release of De La Cruz to which Melo allegedly agreed. 

De La Cruz was transported via plane to a Texas federal facility on March 9, 2012. This past weekend, the agent met with De La Cruz, Nunez and Torres to discuss his release into Mexico, at which time the agent stated De La Cruz would not be released to elements of the Gulf Cartel if the agent and his associates did not receive their final payment of $460,000.

On March 13, 2012, Gaspar Martinez Montes, 41, a legal permanent resident residing in Harlingen, Texas, allegedly imported into the United States $134,003 in U.S. currency and declared the currency was to be used to purchase items for personal business. On the same date, Martinez, along with Nunez-Venegas and Juan Trejo-Venegas, 33, of Matamoros, Mexico, met with the undercover agent and delivered $250,010 as a payment to help ensure the safe passage of De La Cruz into Mexico, at which time the agent told Nunez, Martinez and Trejo-Venegas to be prepared to assist in the upcoming release of De La Cruz.

Yesterday, Torres, Melo, Nunez-Venegas, Martinez, Trejo-Venegas and Jose C. Venegas, 36, of Brownsville, met with the agent to discuss a logistical plan that would ensure that De La Cruz would be deported as had been agreed in previous negotiations. As part of the plan, according to the complaint, Torres and Nunez told the agent Torres and Melo had agreed to ride together in one vehicle and Nunez and Venegas would drive in another vehicle while acting as escorts for De La Cruz. Martinez, Trejo-Venegas and Venegas were also present during the discussion.

All the men were taken in custody last night. De La Cruz, Torres, Melo and Nunez-Venegas are set to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan for a detention hearing on March 20, at 1:30 p.m. while Martinez, Trejo-Venegas and Venegas are scheduled to have an initial appearance before Magistrate Judge Morgan tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.   

The case was investigated by ICE-HSI, FBI and the Brownsville Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jody Young and Angel Castro. 

A criminal complaint is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.