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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Mexican National Sentenced to Prison for Role in Doña Ana County Cocaine Trafficking Ring

DEA-Led OCDETF Operation Targeted Cocaine Trafficking in Southern New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Rene Cruz-Vargas, 41, a Mexican national, was sentenced today in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., to 27 months in prison for participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Doña Ana County, N.M. Cruz-Vargas will be deported after completing his prison sentence.


Cruz-Vargas was arrested in Sept. 2016, on an indictment alleging cocaine trafficking charges. The 18-count indictment was the result of a six-month investigation, which was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) program, targeting a drug trafficking organization allegedly led by Joel Ibarra-Torres, 47, a Mexican national, that distributed cocaine in Doña Ana County.


The indictment charged Ibarra-Torres and seven co-conspirators, including several members of Ibarra-Torres’ family, with participating in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy that existed from at least March 2016 until Sept. 2016. The indictment also charged that Ibarra-Torres and two of his co-defendants participated in an international money laundering conspiracy. It also charged certain of the defendants with substantive cocaine trafficking offenses and with using telephones to facilitate their drug trafficking activities. The indictment included forfeiture provisions that seek the forfeiture of at least $31,620, constituting proceeds of the defendants’ criminal activities, to the United States.


On June 22, 2017, Cruz-Vargas pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging him with participating in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy. In entering the guilty plea, Cruz-Vargas admitted that on July 14, 2016, he traveled from in El Paso, Texas, to deliver five ¼ kilogram packages of cocaine to co-defendant Juan Velazquez, 26, in Las Cruces. Cruz-Vargas also admitted delivering six ¼ kilogram packages of cocaine to Velazquez on Aug. 25, 2016.


Seven of Cruz-Vargas’ codefendants have entered guilty pleas and three have been sentenced. Velasquez pled guilty on Dec. 22, 2016, Noemi Ibarra, 24, of Las Cruces, pled guilty on April 24, 2017, and Alejandro Chavez, 28, also of Las Cruces pled guilty on July 24, 2017, all three are pending sentencing hearings. Joel Ibarra, Jr., 22, of Sunland Park, N.M., pled guilty on Dec. 20, 2016, and was sentenced on April 26, 2017. Denise Duarte, 25, also of Sunland Park, pled guilty on Dec. 23, 2016, and was sentenced on May 1, 2017. Gabriela Castro, 25, a Mexican national pled guilty on Dec. 19, 2016, and was sentenced on April 24, 2017.


Ibarra-Torres has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


The investigation leading to the indictment was conducted by the Las Cruces office of the DEA, the U.S. Border Patrol and the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Terri J. Abernathy and Sarah M. Davenport of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch office.

Drug Trafficking
Updated August 15, 2017