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Contraband
11/17/2011

South Texas residents sentenced on cocaine and money laundering charges

A leader of this drug smuggling operation was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Four people have been sentenced for their involvement in a cocaine trafficking and money laundering conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, announced on Thursday.

Senior U.S. District Judge Hayden Head handed down the sentences on Nov. 17 to members of a drug and money transportation cell responsible for smuggling and transporting hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the United States. These drugs were transported from Brownsville, Texas, to Atlanta and Dallas. Millions of dollars in drug proceeds received from those northern points were smuggled into Mexico.

  • Arturo Gomez, 31, was one of the leaders of this cell and the owner and operator of an auto shop in Brownsville, which was used as a receiving/delivery and loading point for cocaine and drug proceeds. Gomez was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison and will serve five years of supervised release.
  • Magda Zendejas, 28, was a manager in the group responsible for recruiting drivers for load vehicles. Zendejas received a 235-month sentence and will serve five years of supervised release.
  • Contraband transporter Reyna Ceballos, 21, Zendejas' niece, was sentenced to 70 months and will also serve a five-year term of supervised release.
  • David Alcala, 30, Gomez's "right-hand man" at the auto shop/stash location received a 90-month term of imprisonment to be followed by four years of supervised release.
  • Sentencing for contraband transporter Julio Gonzalez, 45, Ceballos' father, was reset for Dec. 1.

According to pleadings filed in the case, Gomez, with the assistance of Alcala, operated an auto shop called Arizpe Auto Glass located on the 3800 block of N. Expressway in Brownsville in or about 2009. The shop was moved to the 2400 block of E. 14th Street in Brownsville following the arrest of two drivers with a load of cocaine in July 2009. It was then renamed yet again to Arezpe No. 1 State Inspection and Auto Glass and relocated to the 2000 block of Southmost Road in Brownsville. The auto shop was in actuality a stash house for cocaine smuggled into the United States by other members of the transportation group in hidden compartments in various vehicles. The auto shop was also the collection point for proceeds generated by the sale of the contraband in Atlanta and Dallas.

At the auto shop, Gomez received cocaine smuggled in by Zendejas as well as transporters recruited by her. Between 2009 and 2011, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine were loaded onto vehicles either sent by the distributor in Atlanta or in vehicles obtained by members of this transportation cell for delivery to points north and further distribution. Millions of dollars in drug proceeds were delivered to the auto shop by members of the transportation cell. The drug proceeds were to be smuggled into Mexico.

The defendants were arrested on March 2 by investigating agents executing arrest warrants which were issued following the return of the four-count indictment Feb. 23. The indictment was superseded on March 23 to include an additional count and notice of criminal forfeiture. Gomez, Zendejas, Ceballos, Gonzalez and Alcala all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Gomez also entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to launder money. Gomez and Alcala agreed to forfeit $524,910 in U.S. currency which was seized on March 2 during their arrests. These defendants have been in custody since their arrests where they will remain pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Another codefendant, Vanessa Weaver, 28, who previously entered a guilty plea on April 14 to federal charges relating to her role as bulk-cash transporter for this cell, is currently a fugitive. Anyone with information regarding her whereabouts is asked to contact ICE HSI at 361-888-3501.

This Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, dubbed "Operation Stained Glass," prompting the criminal charges was conducted in Corpus Christi. Led by ICE HSI, the joint investigative effort included agents from the following agencies: Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Marshals Service; invaluable assistance was also received from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie K. Hampton, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.