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Press Release

Jury convicts head of drug trafficking group

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A federal jury has returned guilty verdicts on all counts against a 40-year-old Brownsville man for his role in trafficking more than 1000 kilograms of cocaine involving $26 million in drug proceeds, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before convicting Rafael Villanueva following a six-day trial.

During trial, the jury heard from approximately 21 witnesses. They detailed Villanueva’s role as head of a drug transportation group that moved cocaine from the Rio Grande Valley and on to cities throughout the United States. He had customers in Mexico who needed transportation for cocaine to areas throughout the United States, including Houston; Chicago, Illinois; Jackson, Mississippi; as well as locations in South and North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

He also provided transportation for drug proceeds sold throughout the United States back to the Rio Grande Valley. The commercial vehicles were outfitted with special compartments to hide the cocaine and drug proceeds.

Several witnesses testified Villanueva hired them to move the cocaine north and the drug proceeds south. Villanueva paid them by the kilogram to transport the drugs and a percentage of the drug money coming south. Fellow drug traffickers also testified Villanueva borrowed their line of transport for the cocaine when commercial drivers Villanueva hired got arrested with loads of cocaine.

One of the witnesses was a young male who was only 16 when he started working for Villanueva.

The jury also heard about the search of Villanueva’s house where authorities found five guns and numerous documents showing his lavish lifestyle as well as several Lone Star cards. 

The defense attempted to convince the jury the witnesses were all liars and authorities did poor work.

The jury ultimately found him guilty as charged for possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and conspiracy to do so, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, bulk cash smuggling and international money laundering.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. presided over the trial and set sentencing for May 4, 2020. At that time, Villanueva faces up to life in prison. He will remain in custody pending that hearing.

Several others have also been convicted for their respective roles.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Drug Enforcement Administration conducted the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force operation known as La Camelia. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen Betancourt, Jody Young and Paul Marian are prosecuting the case.

Updated January 28, 2020

Drug Trafficking