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Gulf Cartel figure in south Texas and 5 associates sentenced for bribery

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A Gulf Cartel organizer and five of his associates were sentenced Wednesday after they were convicted for bribing a public official, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of the FBI and Brownsville Police Department.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen imposed the following sentences Oct. 10:

  • Juan Carlos De La Cruz Reyna, 37, was sentenced to 135 months in federal prison, and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine;
  • Julio Adolfo Torres, 40, was sentenced to 120 months;
  • Carlos Melo, 38, was sentenced to 84 months;
  • Gaspar Montes-Montes-Martinez, 42, was sentenced to 46 months, and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine;
  • Trejo Juan Trejo Venegas, 34, was sentenced to 46 months; and
  • Jose Cruz Venegas Esquivel, 37, was sentenced to 24 months.

Adalberto Nunez Venegas, 40, who was also convicted in the case, will be sentenced in January.

All six defendants previously pleaded guilty between April 23 and May 10.

According to court documents, the convictions resulted from an investigation launched as De La Cruz Reyna was set to be released from federal prison after serving 30 months for assaulting federal agents in Matamoros, Mexico, in November 1999. Those assaults were conducted at the direction of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who was then leader of the Gulf Cartel.

After completing his first prison sentence, De La Cruz Reyna would normally have been returned to Mexican authorities since he had no legal status to remain in the U.S. He would have been returned at either a port of entry along the U.S.-Mexican border or flown to the interior of Mexico. However, fearing possible prosecution by Mexican authorities or being taken into custody by a rival drug cartel, De La Cruz Reyna attempted to bribe a federal official to ensure safe passage to Mexico. Through the co-conspirators, De La Cruz Reyna made a total of $797,000 in bribe payments over the course of the scheme.

At his direction, De La Cruz Reyna's co-conspirators met an undercover officer, who they thought was a corrupt HSI special agent, on numerous occasions from May 2011 to March 2012, and made several bribe payments. During this period, De La Cruz Reyna admitted he spoke with the special agent from prison on numerous occasions about bribery payments and to negotiate his release and with another special agent in Atlanta, Ga., and on two occasions to discuss his covert removal to Mexico.

The overall bribery scheme primarily involved obtaining De La Cruz Reyna's unannounced removal to Mexico, his release to elements of the Gulf Cartel, and avoiding official notification and transfer to the appropriate Mexican federal law enforcement authorities. The bribery scheme also involved allowing individuals to visit him in the Atlanta prison while he was there.

After De La Cruz Reyna was transferred to the Rio Grande Valley in preparation for his supposed release to elements of the Gulf Cartel, several of the conspirators, including De La Cruz Reyna and Nunez Venegas, met with the special agent and discussed the final bribe payment. At that time, the officer was wearing his official credentials clearly indicating he was a federal law enforcement officer. On -March 13, Nunez Venegas, Trejo Venegas and Montes-Martinez met with the undercover officer and made the final payment.

On the night of March 14, the six men met with the special agent to discuss the final arrangements and each person's role in the operation, at which time they were all arrested. De La Cruz Reyna was also arrested on that date.

De La Cruz Reyna and the others will remain in federal custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jody Young and Angel Castro, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.