WASHINGTON –Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today visited the U.S. border in Laredo, Texas and announced $300,000 in additional funding to boost efforts to combat drug trafficking in Laredo and McAllen, Texas. The grant will help fund a joint task force of federal and state law enforcement agencies to target high-level drug trafficking organizations along the U.S./Mexico border.
The joint task force–called a Strike Force–allows law enforcement agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Texas Department of Public Safety to work side-by-side in the same location, quickly responding to leads and establishing links between investigations.
The Strike Force is supported by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a federal drug enforcement program that focuses attention and resources on the disruption and dismantling of major drug trafficking organizations. OCDETF provides a framework for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to work together to target well-established and complex organizations that direct, finance or engage in illegal narcotics trafficking and related crimes.
“Many border communities in Texas have unfortunately experienced first hand the terrible consequences caused by violent crime and drug trafficking,” said Attorney General Gonzales. “But law enforcement is fighting back and I am pleased to announce new funding for our Strike Force team in Laredo and McAllen. This team will provide greater coordination between state and federal law enforcement agencies as we work together to combat crime and stop the flow of drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The OCDETF Strike Force in Laredo and McAllen is an extension of the Houston OCDETF Strike Force established in October 2005. Law enforcement agents participating in the Houston OCDETF Strike Force pursue major investigations in a coordinated, aggressive fashion. Since its creation, the Houston OCDETF Strike Force has identified Mexican organizational leaders, Columbian narcotics suppliers, international and domestic drug transporters, and domestic distribution cells. It has prevented the shipment of over 30 tons of cocaine from crossing the U.S. border and confiscated more than $32 million from major drug trafficking organizations.
The OCDETF Strike Force compliments the efforts of the Laredo Violent Crime Impact Team (VCIT), established in 2005. The VCIT program is an ATF-led joint law enforcement effort launched in cities with high volumes of firearms crimes and is designed to identify, arrest and prosecute the most dangerous violent criminals. The Laredo VCIT is composed of law enforcement agents from the ATF, DEA, FBI, ICE, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Marshals Service.
In 2006, the Laredo VCIT was credited with recovering 224 firearms and arresting 69 of Laredo’s most dangerous felons and fugitives, including Jose A. Garza-Robles and Hector Herrera-Sifuentes, both permanent resident aliens from Mexico. Both are accused of kidnapping an American citizen and holding him hostage in Mexico until his family paid Garza-Robles a $57,500 ransom. Garza-Robles and Herrera-Sifuentes were charged in a 3 count indictment with conspiring to kidnap and kidnapping a United States citizen. Each of the two counts carries a punishment of one year to life imprisonment upon conviction. Garza-Robles was also charged with a third count of receiving ransom money which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment. Each of the three counts also carries a maximum fine of $250,000 upon conviction.
The Laredo VCIT also arrested Jesus Alberto De Leon. On September 25, 2006, court documents allege that De Leon, a twice-convicted felon, and unknown co-conspirators attempted to kidnap an individual in the parking lot of a Target store in Laredo. The victim escaped and entered the store, but De Leon pursued the victim into the department store, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. He was arrested as he attempted to flea from law enforcement officers. He has been indicted for conspiracy to kidnap, attempted kidnapping, use of a firearm in the course and commission of a crime of violence, and felon in possession of a firearm. He faces a sentence of up to life imprisonment.