HOUSTON — A multi-count federal indictment has been unsealed following the arrest of 11 individuals throughout south Texas and the Houston areas, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
He was joined in the announcement by Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston and Joseph M. Arabit, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The indictment was returned under seal May 29 and unsealed upon each arrest Wednesday. Those taken into custody are expected to make initial appearances before U.S. magistrate judges in Houston or McAllen June 19.
"Our collective efforts today under 'Operation Ranch Hand' have struck a blow to what we believe is a significant drug trafficking organization operating in south Texas," said Moskowitz. "Those who bet the ranch on being able to traffic tons of marijuana from the border up through our cities are now feeling the long arm of the law upon them."
The joint DEA/HSI investigation into the organization began in March 2011. Since that time, agents have seized about 7,500 pounds of marijuana and thousands of dollars in U.S. currency.
During the course of the arrests, law enforcement also discovered and seized about 400 pounds of marijuana and thousands of dollars in U.S. currency, as well as several utility trailers, tractors, vehicles and firearms.
"These arrests demonstrate the value of multi-agency collaboration, which is essential to our ability to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations," said Arabit. "DEA, HSI and the numerous state and local agencies that worked on this investigation underscore the commitment that enabled us to dismantle this network charged with the distribution of marijuana and other illicit drugs from McAllen to Houston and the transportation of bulk cash from Houston to south Texas."
Those taken into custody include:
- Daniel Villarreal Sr., 55, of Conroe, Texas;
- Jose Villarreal, aka Mikey, 38; Ishmael Villarreal, 56; Guadalupe Arechiga-Gutierrez, aka Lupe, 36; Felipe Licea, 35; and Danny Sandoval, aka Capo, 29, all of Sullivan City, Texas;
- Jaime Garcia, aka YuYu, 49, of Palmview, Texas; Severiano Homero Garza Jr., aka Cuerdas or Borracho, 55, of Rio Grande City, Texas;
- Osvaldo Martinez-Trevino, 42, and Joel Blanco, 31, both of Houston;
- and Gerardo Flores, 37, of Mission, Texas.
- Also charged but not in custody are: Gilberto Mena-Garcia, aka Yune, 60, and Daniel Garza, 33, both of Mexico; David Isaac Garcia, 43, of Pharr, Texas; Erbey Siller, aka BiBi, 35, of Mission, Texas; and Gerardo Mena, 32, of Pasadena, Texas.
Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to contact the U.S. Marshals Service at 1-877-WANTED2 (1-877-926-8332), DEA at 1-713-693-3000 or HSI at 1-866-347-2423.
All have been charged with conspiracy with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. If convicted, they each face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison, as well as a possible $4 million fine. With the exception of Ishmael Villarreal, Flores and Licea, all are also charged with one or more counts of possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana for which they face a mandatory minimum of five and up to 40 years in federal prison and another possible $2 million on each count. Martinez-Trevino is further charged with two counts of distribution of marijuana and faces up to 20 years and a potential $1 million fine, while Ishmael Villarreal and Martinez-Trevino further face a maximum of 20 years upon conviction of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.
The indictment also includes a notice of forfeiture of 10 properties, including a ranch in Conroe, Texas, allegedly used in the facilitation of drug smuggling or acquired with drug proceeds. The United States is also seeking a money judgment in the amount of $4 million.
The investigation was led by both HSI and DEA as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force in Houston and McAllen. Assistance was provided by the following agencies: the sheriff's offices in Montgomery, Harris and Hidalgo (Texas) counties, Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Texas National Guard, as well the following police departments in Texas: Houston, Pasadena, Palmview, Sullivan City, McAllen, Weslaco, San Juan, Pharr, Mission and Rio Grande City. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bertram Isaacs is prosecuting.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.