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11 Charged in Heroin Conspiracy

JUL 28 (LAREDO, Texas) - A total of 11 people are in custody following an enforcement operation in two separate, but related cases involving a heroin trafficking conspiracy, announced Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Those arrested include Alejandro Escobar-Becerra, 35, Francisco Garcia-Castro, 38, Vicente Vasquez, 45, Cynthia Veronica Castillo, 40, Ernesto Moreno, 44, Jose Ricardo Diaz, 42, Pedro Jorge Rodriguez, 29, Juan Jesus Luna, 31, Juan Erasmo Garcia, 41, all of Laredo. With the exception of Rodriquez, who was taken into custody in Catarina and made his initial appearance in Del Rio, all appeared this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Guillermo R. Garcia in Laredo. All have been detained pending further court proceedings. 

Also charged is Benito Reyna, 49, and Julio Santiago Gonzalez, 26, both also of Laredo. They were already in custody and are expected to appear in federal court in the near future.

A federal grand jury returned the indictments under seal June 21, 2016, alleging a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. Some are also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The indictments were unsealed upon the arrests yesterday.

Escobar, Castro, Elizondo, Vasquez, Reyna and Moreno are part of an indictment charging them with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. Diaz, Rodriguez, Luna, Garcia and Gonzalez are alleged members of the Texas Mexican Mafia prison gang. Diaz is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, while Rodriguez, Luna, Garcia and Gonzalez are charged with being felons in possession of firearms.

The joint investigation which started in 2013 identified some of the defendants as alleged members of a street level heroin and cocaine distribution organization. According to the charges, on March 14, 2014 Rodriguez, Luna, Garcia and Gonzalez were traveling to a nightclub to look for a person at the request of Diaz. However, Laredo Police Department officers stopped them and discovered three firearms in their possession, according to the indictment.

If convicted in the drug conspiracy, all face up to 40 years in prison and a possible $5 million fine. Rodriguez, Luna, Garcia and Gonzalez also face up to 10 years upon conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The indictments were part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation named “Smokey’s Café.” The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Texas Department of Public Safety - Criminal Investigations Division conducted the investigation with assistance by the Laredo Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Guardiola is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

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