BROWNSVILLE, Texas — One of the highest-ranking members of the Gulf Cartel has been ordered to life in federal prison following his convictions related to a large drug trafficking conspiracy involving more than 11,000 tons of marijuana.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, announced this sentence Tuesday along with Vincent Iglio, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Antonio, and Javier Peña, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
A jury convicted Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon Sept. 28, 2012 following seven days of trial and less than two hours of deliberation.
On May 14, U.S. District Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who presided over the trial, ordered Rincon to serve a life sentence in federal prison. At the hearing, the court found that Rincon-Rincon was accountable for the equivalent of 10,697,100 kilograms (23,583,069 pounds or more than 11,791 tons) of marijuana as his offense conduct.
His sentence was enhanced because, during the conspiracy, Rincon-Rincon used dangerous weapons, such as: grenades, rocket launchers, homemade cannons and automatic weapons. The court also enhanced his sentence because Rincon-Rincon was a leader/organizer of the criminal activity, used violence, used body armor, bribed law enforcement officials, imported methamphetamine, and because his primary employment consisted of being a lieutenant and/or plaza boss for the Gulf Cartel.
Rincon-Rincon was further ordered to pay a $1 million fine for each of the two counts of conviction.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Tagle noted that Rincon-Rincon had made the conscious choice to participate in the conspiracy and further commented to him that "you enjoyed the fruits of that lifestyle. Now, it is time for you to deal with the consequences."
"HSI agents have made it a top priority to bring stability and security to the south Texas border region, and this sentencing of Rincon-Rincon is a prime example of that policy," said Iglio. "HSI will continue its efforts in partnership with our federal, state and local partners to combat cartel-related crimes to achieve these significant results."
Rincon-Rincon, 42, from Matamoros, Mexico, was convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute, as well as conspiracy to import into the United States more than five kilograms of cocaine and 1000 kilograms of marijuana from January 2002 until his capture Oct. 26, 2011.
"Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon, one of the highest ranking members of the Gulf Cartel, posed a threat to the citizens of both the United States and Mexico," said Peña. "This case highlights the work of law enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley in keeping our border communities safe and ensuring Mexican drug traffickers do not find refuge in the United States."
Evidence at trial proved that more than 9,000 kilograms of marijuana was seized by the U.S. Border Patrol during the months of September and October 2011 when Rincon-Rincon was proven to be the Plaza Boss of Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
During his time in that leadership role, the money derived from the Gulf Cartel was more than $20 million. As the plaza boss, which is the lead representative for the Gulf Cartel in a particular region or town, Rincon-Rincon, aka Primo or X-5, was in charge of maintaining control of the region to ensure safe passage of the Gulf Cartel's narcotics, and ensuring no narcotics passed through his area of responsibility without his approval or knowledge.
Testimony at trial indicated that control of the plaza was accomplished by bribing Mexican law enforcement, some elements of the Mexican military, the news media and elected public officials. Additionally, testimony indicated that control of the plaza was also accomplished by secretly and illegally wire-tapping the phones at law enforcement offices, public offices and phones, hotels and news media outlets.
License plate readers and cameras were also used to detect infiltration of rival cartels or the movements of the Mexican military, according to testimony. Rincon-Rincon also had at least 100 individuals at his disposal armed with semi-automatic rifles, body armor, grenades, .50-caliber automatic rifles, and some had rocket launchers.
Testimony at trial further revealed that beginning in about 2000, Rincon-Rincon began working his way up the ranks of the Gulf Cartel through his associations with other known Cartel members.
Testimony indicated that in 2000, Rincon-Rincon was a police officer in Matamoros, Mexico, patrolling its streets with Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez, the eventual leader of the Cartel Del Golfo. During this time, Rincon-Rincon and Costilla-Sanchez were in charge of drug houses in Matamoros, according to testimony.
Rincon-Rincon was eventually one of Costilla-Sanchez's most trusted associates. In 2003, Osiel Cardenas-Guillen was arrested and Costilla-Sanchez then took over the leadership of the Gulf Cartel.
The jury heard testimony that many individuals involved in the drug transactions often had to go through Rincon-Rincon to relay information to Costilla to receive authorization to transport drugs, to make bribe payments, and to negotiate drug terms. Rincon-Rincon also received large amounts of bulk cash currency that were proceeds from selling large amounts of Gulf Cartel narcotics.
During his association with the Cartel, Rincon-Rincon was also in charge of a "Polla," which involved collecting money to purchase cocaine and distribute it to those who contributed to it. Several co-defendants testified that Rincon-Rincon collected between $500,000 and $700,000 from Gulf Cartel conspirators, and then returned with 100 to 120 kilograms of cocaine which would then be imported into the U.S. by Gulf Cartel associates. According to testimony, Rincon-Rincon conducted the "Polla" at least once per month from about 2003 to 2010.
An internal power struggle later developed which eventually led to a fire fight Oct. 25, 2011, at which time another plaza boss was killed. As a result, Rincon-Rincon and others fled into the United States and were captured by law enforcement Oct. 26, 2011.
This case was investigated by HSI, DEA, FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Cameron County (Texas) Sheriff's Office, and police departments in Brownsville and Progresso. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Angel Castro and Jody L. Young, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.