Texas Jury Convicts Zeta Hitman “Cachetes”
LAREDO, Texas – The federal jury in Laredo, Texas, hearing the case of Gerardo Castillo-Chavez aka “Cachetes” aka Armado Garcia has just returned guilty verdicts on all counts, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Javier Peña. Castillo-Chavez, 25, who hails from Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas, Mexico, was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, interstate travel in aid of racketeering (ITAR) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime or a crime of violence.
Jury selection began on Jan. 17 before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alavarez and, after four and a half days of trial testimony and approximately six hours of deliberation, the jury returned its unanimous verdicts just moments ago.
The charges stem from a Feb. 17, 2010, superceding indictment charging Castillo-Chavez and 33 others with 47 counts of conspiracy to kidnap and murder U.S. citizens in a foreign country, drug conspiracy, kidnapping conspiracy, firearms conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, use of juveniles to commit a violent crime, accessory after the fact, solicitation, as well as substantive money laundering, drug trafficking and ITAR charges.
During the week-long trial, jurors heard testimony from several Zeta hitmen who committed murders in Laredo, Texas, as well as Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. In addition, several defendants testified as witnesses for the government and detailed cocaine and marijuana trafficking from Mexico to Dallas, Texas, and New York City. Further testimony outlined murders and attempted murders committed by “sicario” (assassin) cells in Laredo between June 2005 and April 2006. The United States also presented telephone interceptions which described in detail the gruesome murders and disposal of the bodies of two U.S. citizens kidnapped and killed in Nuevo Laredo.
Testimony of several witnesses, including three co-defendants, tied Castillo-Chavez to the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas between November 2005 and May 2009. Their testimony implicated “Cachetes” in the double murder of two males on April 2, 2006, the attempted murders of two others in March 2006 and in the grenade attack of a nightclub in Monterrey, Mexico, where four people were killed.
Of those originally charged in relation to the case, 14 have now been convicted, with some already receiving significant sentences, such as 40 years, 60 years and one life sentence. Five others are still pending sentencing. In addition, f our others have also been convicted in separate indictments resulting from the same investigation.
Castillo-Chavez himself faces up to life imprisonment and a $4 million fine for the drug conspiracy conviction. He also faces an additional $250,000 fine and a maximum of 20 years for each of the ITAR charges relating to the attempted murders and up to life for the firearms charges in addition to a fine of $250,000 relating to the same attempted murders. He has been in custody since Feb. 5, 2009, when he was arrested in Houston where he will remain in pending his sentencing hearing, set for April 30, 2012.
The case against Castillo-Chavez was a result of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation dubbed Operation Prophecy spearheaded by the DEA and Laredo Police Department with the assistance of Immigration and Customs-Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Border Patrol, U.S. Marshals Service, Webb County Sheriff’s Office and the Webb County District Attorney’s Office. The investigation targeted various cells of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas with a primary focus on the sicario cells that carried out executions of targeted rival drug members on both sides of the border.
The case was prosecuted in Laredo federal court by Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) José Angel Moreno with assistance throughout the case from AUSAs James Hepburn and Jimmy Ustynoski, who is now with the Northern District of Florida.