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Southern District of Texas Investigation and Personnel Win National Award

DEC 03 (LAREDO, Texas) - The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation known as Operation El Chacal has been selected as the recipient of the National OCDETF Award for Outstanding Investigation in the Southwest Region, announced Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. This award recognizes the investigation that most exemplifies the mission and spirit of the OCDETF Program. The lead prosecutor in this investigation was Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Mary Lou Castillo from the Laredo Division.

Also honored today in a separate award was AUSA Julie Hampton from the Corpus Christi Division. She was selected to receive a national individual award for her exemplary service and leadership in OCDETF investigations.

Each year, each of the nine OCDETF regions nominate investigations and individuals for consideration. The Washington Agency Representatives Group then reviews those nominations and makes recommendations to the Director of the Executive Office for OCDETF who makes the final decision.

Operation El Chacal was a Laredo DEA-initiated investigation that targeted a major drug trafficking and money laundering organization associated with the Los Zetas organization. The 20-month investigation not only involved agents with the Laredo DEA, but also agents from DEA offices in Chicago, Dallas, San Antonio, Eagle Pass, Nuevo Laredo and Mexico City; agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Laredo; FBI in Chicago; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents in Laredo and Dallas; Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Special Operations Division; U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Border Patrol; and officers from Laredo Police Department (LPD), Webb County Sheriff’s Office, Webb County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Illinois State Police, Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

As a result of Operation El Chacal and its related investigations, law enforcement seized approximately $21.9 million in bulk cash, $50,000 in non-cash assets, 489 kilograms of cocaine, 892 kilograms of marijuana, 1.2 kilograms of methamphetamine and 301 firearms - the majority of which were high powered assault rifles with obliterated serial numbers that were destined for Mexico. In addition, as a direct result law enforcement actions related to Operation El Chacal, authorities were able to locate and save a kidnapped victim in Laredo and provide evidentiary leads to local authorities that led to solving three murders in Laredo. The investigation resulted in the return of 12 federal indictments and one state indictment charging a total of 74 individuals. Of those, 54 have been convicted, two are awaiting extradition from Mexico and nine are fugitives. The investigation also led to the state indictment of six individuals involved in the commission of three separate murders in Laredo.

Recognized today from the U.S. Attorney’s Office were AUSAs Mary Lou Castillo and Andy Guardiola. Also honored today were Rene Dieguez, Robert Donovan, Antonia Mojica Dovalina, Laura Marshall, Timothy Oko, Amin Rosado, Joe Vazquez, Nicholas Rich and Joe Rieger from the DEA, Adrian Flores, Mauro Lopez, Juan Lozano, Raul Nava and Todd Perzigian from HSI, Eric Mcintosh, Franklin Nivar and Ricardo Pagan from the FBI, Andres Rivas and Michael T. Weddel from ATF, Gregorio Cantu, Guillermo Donna, Robert Garcia and Roque Perez from LPD, Gabriel Colon from the Webb County District Attorney's Office/49th District and Robert Liendo Jr. from the Webb County Sheriff’s Office.

In a separate award, AUSA Julie Hampton was recognized for her dedicated and exemplary service to the OCDETF program and its mission and goals and her leadership in financial investigations. AUSA Hampton has brought more civil and criminal forfeiture pleadings than any other OCDETF prosecutor in the Southern District of Texas. She has seized and forfeited approximately $3 million in assets held by drug traffickers and is actively litigating forfeitures in excess of $15 million.

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