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Contraband
08/25/2009

15 arrested in international cocaine and marijuana smuggling conspiracy

SAN ANTONIO - Fifteen defendants were indicted and arrested Tuesday for their alleged roles in a San Antonio-based drug trafficking organization that smuggled cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States. The arrests are the result of an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"This ICE-led investigation and today's arrests will deal a serious blow to this top drug trafficking organization based in south Texas with tentacles in Chicago and Cincinnati," said ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. "Together with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the San Antonio Police Department, we seized large quantities of cocaine and marijuana, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged illegal drug proceeds. We will continue to work to aggressively dismantle the criminal networks that profit from narcotics trafficking."

Those arrested are charged with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.

Those indicted and arrested in San Antonio include alleged ringleaders Jose Omar Martinez, 32, and Gerardo Martinez, 28, as well as Aron Theodore Haslett, 24, David Torres, 30, Celestino Gonzalez-Torres, 26, Ashby Cowart, 25, and Raul Cristobal- Sanchez, 34.

Authorities arrested six indicted defendants in Laredo, Texas, including Edgar Gutierrez, 20, Francisco Espinosa, 26, Joe Jasso, 34, Ramiro Villa, Sr., 45, Gerardo Espinosa, 35, and David Cabello, 35.

Federal authorities in Chicago arrested Luis Molina, 42. Federal authorities in Cincinnati, Ohio, arrested Victor Monroe, 35.

If convicted, each defendant faces between 10 years and life in federal prison.
The indictment also charges Jose Omar Martinez, Gerardo Martinez, Monroe, Sanchez, Hayslett, Cabello, Cowart, Celestino, Torres, Jasso and Ramiro Villa, Sr., with conspiring to commit money laundering.

The indictment alleges that since August 2008, the defendants conspired to run a narcotics trafficking enterprise in West and South Texas, as well as in southern Ohio and northern Illinois. The indictment alleges that the defendants were responsible for the distribution of more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than one thousand kilograms of marijuana. The indictment also alleges that the defendants attempted to transport more than $126,000 in drug distribution proceeds from Cincinnati to San Antonio.

In a related enforcement operation, authorities arrested Robin Cruz, 38, and his wife, Venecia Cruz, 37, Tuesday morning at their San Antonio residence. While executing a state search warrant, authorities discovered approximately eight ounces of cocaine, between 50 and 100 pounds of marijuana and one dozen assault weapons. Both are charged in a federal criminal complaint with possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in federal prison.

"This Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation and prosecution is another illustration of the outstanding results which can be achieved when several law enforcement agencies collaborate in concerted efforts to combat drug trafficking," said John E. Murphy, acting U. S. attorney.

"This year-long investigation, which was a cooperative effort between DEA, ICE, San Antonio Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, has resulted in the arrests of numerous San Antonio and Laredo-area cocaine and marijuana distributors who are part of a multi-state transportation cell based in south Texas. Co-conspirators in Chicago and Cincinnati were identified during the investigation and arrested simultaneously in conjunction with the local arrests. These arrests will effectively impede this criminal organization's ability to transport drugs through our city," said DEA Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mark Harper.

"The benefits of working together with other state and federal agencies could not be more apparent. This joint initiative has yielded positive results towards our continued efforts at making our streets safer," said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.

This case is the result of a joint Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation by ICE, DEA, the San Antonio Police Department and Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics with assistance from other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Ponder is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.