LAREDO, TX – Five men have been arrested following the return of a sealed indictment alleging ties to the Zeta drug cartel and charges of money laundering, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas E. Hinojosa and United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. The indictment, returned Nov. 7, 2011, was partially unsealed today following the appearance this morning of Nelson Adrian Casarez, 35, and Josue Alejandro Salinas, 41, both of Laredo, Texas at which time they were ordered held without bond at the request of the United States pending further criminal proceedings.
Also charged in this indictment are Jose Vasquez aka Catracho, 33, of Chicago, Ill., Isidro Juarez, 49, of San Antonio, Texas, and Miguel Santos aka El Mike, 41, of Laredo. Juarez was a rrested in San Antonio on a related matter but is expected to be presented in Laredo court on these charges in the near future. Vasquez was arrested yesterday in Oklahoma and is expected to make an initial appearance there later today or tomorrow. Santos was arrested just this morning and will be presented for initial appearance in Laredo tomorrow morning. This indictment remains sealed as to those charged but not yet in custody.
Since October 2009, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Texas and Illinois have been conducting an investigation into the large scale transportation of drug proceeds from the Chicago, Ill, area to border cities in Texas including Laredo and Eagle Pass. The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation dubbed Operation El Chacal in Laredo identified a high ranking member of the Zeta drug and money laundering organization who operated out of the Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico area responsible for coordinating the transportation and laundering of bulk U.S. currency from various locations throughout the United States.
According to the indictment, the Zetas are a Mexican cartel engaged in large scale drug trafficking and money laundering. The Zetas cartel allegedly imports and distributes controlled substances including marijuana and cocaine from Mexico into the United States to major distribution centers such as Chicago. The Zetas and their co-conspirators collected drug proceeds from distribution centers and arranged for its transportation from the United States to the Republic of Mexico, according to the indictment.
The investigation identified a Zeta member who was the head of a drug proceeds transportation network for the Zetas and operated out of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. As head of the network, this person directed and orchestrated, through other co-conspirators based in Laredo and Chicago, the collection, concealment, transportation and movement of drug proceeds from the Chicago area to the border cities in Texas. The indictment also alleges that the Zeta head, through other co-conspirators, also coordinated the transportation of the drug proceeds from Texas border cities to the Republic of Mexico. DEA agents were able to identify other co-conspirators who, at the direction of the Zeta head, secured and maintained stash homes in the Chicago area for the concealment, collection, counting and wrapping of drug proceeds in addition to those who worked as truck drivers and, at the direction of the Zeta head, were recruited to transport bulk cash drug proceeds from the Chicago area to South Texas border cities.
The investigation further revealed that at the direction of the Zeta head, co-conspirators received drug proceeds in the Laredo and Eagle Pass area and transferred those drug proceeds to other co-conspirators who then transported the drug proceeds to the Republic of Mexico.
The investigation which was initiated by the Laredo DEA, spun off to OCDETF investigations in Chicago, dubbed Operation Gas Leak, and San Antonio, dubbed Operation Mexican Express. Over the course of the multi-jurisdictional investigation, more than $20 million in drug proceeds were seized throughout the various cities as well as more than 200 kilos of cocaine and weapons.
Furthermore, the investigation resulted in the rescue of a kidnapping victim when federal agents alerted the Laredo Police Department of information obtained during the investigation. The investigation has resulted in indictments being returned in the various jurisdictions to include Laredo, Chicago and San Antonio and the execution of a multi-jurisdictional take down. The violations alleged in the various indictments include conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds, traveling in interstate and foreign commerce in aid of racketeering and use of a communication facility to commit a drug trafficking crime. The prosecutions were coordinated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois with the assistance of federal prosecutors in the Western District of Texas. The Laredo Police Department conducted a separate but related investigation that resulted in the arrest of defendants on state charges last week.