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Leader of San Angelo, Texas, drug trafficking operation pleads guilty in federal court

Defendant faces up to 30 years in federal prison

LUBBOCK, Texas - The leader of a methamphetamine and marijuana trafficking organization in San Angelo, Texas, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy to distribute and possess methamphetamine, announced U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas.

The case is being investigated by the following agencies: U .S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Angelo Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Tom Green County District Attorney's Office.

Rodney Pena Mendez, 27, and seven other defendants, all from San Angelo, were charged in a 15-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in May. The charges included conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and 50 kilograms or more of marijuana. Some of the defendants are also charged with at least one substantive drug-distribution count.

Mendez, aka "Pee Wee," faces a maximum statutory sentence of 30 years in prison, a $2 million fine, and a lifetime of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings ordered a presentence investigation report; sentencing will be scheduled after that report is complete.

Following are the other seven defendants charged in the indictment: Juan Anthony Bautista, 27; Victor Lombrana, 23; Henry Pena Mendez, 45; Elizabeth Escobedo, 41; Gabriel Solis Jr., 27; and Daniel Avila Jr., 24. Charges were dismissed against Hector Guerrero, 46.

Defendants Gabriel Solis and Daniel Avila have pleaded guilty to their roles in the operation; sentencing dates have not been set. The remaining defendants are set for a future court date. According to plea documents filed in the case, Rodney Mendez admitted that from August 2008 to about May 11, 2011, he, Lombrana, Henry Mendez, and others, agreed to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

In August 2008, law enforcement began investigating the narcotics trafficking activities of Rodney Mendez, who recruited friends and family members to help facilitate his trafficking. His methamphetamine source was in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and his marijuana source was in south Texas. He or other co-conspirators transported the drugs to San Angelo and other destinations, inside and outside the Northern District of Texas. When the methamphetamine and marijuana arrived in San Angelo, Rodney Mendez and his co-conspirators distributed it.

On several occasions a confidential informant, or an undercover officer, purchased methamphetamine from defendant Victor Lombrana. Surveillance revealed that Lombrana regularly visited Mendez, and that Lombrana called him 379 times from August 8 to October 26, 2009.

In January 2010, Rodney Mendez was the passenger in a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office. Defendant Juan Anthony Bautista was the driver. The deputy deployed his narcotics detection canine who alerted to the odor of narcotics in the vehicle. A search of the vehicle revealed about 29 pounds of marijuana hidden in the vehicle's roof liner.

On Jan. 31, 2011, law enforcement executed a search warrant at the residence of Henry Pena Mendez's, Rodney Mendez's brother. A subsequent search of Henry Mendez's residence yielded 315.63 net grams of methamphetamine and 2.77 pounds of marijuana. The investigation revealed that Rodney Mendez had supplied his brother with the methamphetamine and marijuana found at his residence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey R. Haag of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Lubbock, Texas, is in charge of the prosecution.