High-Ranking Member of Los Zetas Cartel Sentenced in Eastern District of Texas to a Term of Life Imprisonment
PLANO, Texas – A Mexican national and high-ranking member of the Los Zetas cartel received a life sentence for drug trafficking violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei today.
Hugo Cesar Roman-Chavarria, also known as “El Vecino,” pleaded guilty on August 23, 2019, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment by U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan today.
“The mill of justice grinds slowly, but it grinds finely,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei. “Since the time of Mr. Chavarria’s criminal indictment nearly a decade ago, we and our dedicated law enforcement partners have never stopped trying to bring him into the United States, and, more particularly, our courts, to answer for his crimes. That day has finally arrived. Mr. Chavarria believed he was operating beyond the reach of the American justice system, but his lengthy sentence shows how mistaken he was. His criminal career now at a close, Mr. Chavarria will no longer be able to import poison into the United States or fuel violence back in Mexico.”
“This lengthy sentence is the culmination of years of collaborative investigations with our trusted law enforcement partners, sending a resounding message that HSI will be relentless in its pursuit of criminals who bring illegal drugs in our communities and they will be brought to justice,” said Ryan S. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge, HSI Dallas. “The conclusion of this significant operation with this criminal behind bars is a victory against organizations moving dangerous drugs in and across our borders.”
“Transnational Criminal Organizations like Los Zetas are fueled by greed, intimidation, and violence,” said DEA Dallas Special Agent in Charge Eduardo A. Chavez. “Mr. Chavarria’s sentence today reflects that justice wins in the end and the positive impact DEA’s efforts can make on communities not just here in North Texas, but across the country. A kilogram of cocaine seized in Dallas is one less kilogram available for a gang to fight over in Chicago or to be offered to one of our youth in Philadelphia. It matters and DEA Dallas will remain steadfast in destroying command elements of these criminal organizations across the globe.”
Over the course of a three-day sentencing hearing in August and September 2021, the district court heard from 13 witnesses for the government, including other high-ranking Zeta members, who, like Chavarria, had been extradited to the United States to face charges. According to court testimony, from 2007 through 2011, Chavarria oversaw the shipment of enormous quantities of cocaine between Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, and Eagle Pass, Texas on behalf of the Los Zetas Cartel, in which he was a high-ranking member. The Zetas were notorious for their brutality, even by cartel standards. The Zetas ruthlessly carried out beheadings, hangings, torture, kidnappings, and even boiling or burning people alive, in order to intimidate and demoralize enemies and innocent civilians.
A particularly shocking act of brutality was the 2011 massacre of men, women, and children in the Mexican town of Allende, just 40 minutes from Eagle Pass. The Zetas’ mass killing of town residents was in retaliation for the suspected leaking of information to law enforcement by an individual whose relatives lived in Allende. Numerous witnesses described how Chavarria participated in the massacre by traveling around Allende with Zetas gunmen, pointing out the homes of relatives and associates of the suspected leaker, effectively marking these people and their families for death. After the Zetas finished their mass killing, they loaded the bodies into a barn and incinerated the building. A definitive conclusion has never been reached as to the number of men, women, and children who lost their lives, but the total is believed to be at least 100, and possibly up to 300.
Chavarria also led a separate drug trafficking and money laundering operation, which operated with the permission and protection of the Zetas Cartel. Along with a partner, Chavarria imported 500 kilograms of cocaine into the United States every month. This cocaine was primarily destined for distribution in Texas cities and towns. Bulk currency, in turn, was smuggled from the United States back to Chavarria in Mexico by secreting the cash in washers, dryers, refrigerators, and automobile gas tanks. Chavarria also acquired bulk firearms and military equipment from the United States on behalf of the Zetas, for use in the Cartel’s violent struggles against other drug trafficking organizations.
Chavarria and 17 other individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury on Sep. 15, 2011. They were charged with drug trafficking and money laundering violations. Chavarria was extradited from Mexico to the United States on Nov. 30, 2018 and has been detained since that time.
The investigation and prosecution of Chavarria and his organization comes as part of “Operation Too Legit to Quit,” an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF. To date, the overall operation has resulted in charges against approximately 160 defendants in 28 indictments and the seizure of close to 700 kilograms of cocaine as well as more than $9 million in cash and other assets.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-Dallas with assistance from DEA-Bogota, DEA-Cartagena, FBI, ATF, Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, Mesquite Police Department, Fort Worth Police Department, Rowlett Police Department, and Lewisville Police Department. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in securing extradition from Mexico. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ernest Gonzalez and Colleen Bloss.