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Document and Benefit Fraud

Gulf Cartel member, 3 others plead guilty to bribing a public official

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A member of the notorious Gulf Cartel pleaded guilty Monday to bribing a public official, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of the FBI and the Brownsville Police Department.

Juan Carlos De La Cruz Reyna, 37, and the following three of his associates pleaded guilty to bribing a public official; Adalberto Nunez Venegas, 39, Juan Trejo Venegas, 33 and Jose Cruz Venegas Esquivel, 36.

The charges were filed as De La Cruz Reyna was set to be released from federal prison after serving 30 months for a previous conviction related to an assault against 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.

Most deportable aliens, after they completed their prison sentences, would have been returned to Mexican authorities at either a U.S.-Mexico port of entry at the border or flown to the interior of Mexico. However, De La Cruz Reyna feared being prosecuted by Mexican authorities or being kidnapped by a rival drug cartel. He admitted Monday that he bribed a federal official in an attempt 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.

According to court documents, in early to mid-2011, Nunez Venegas and another co-conspirator began negotiating with an undercover HSI special agent. They thought the special agent was a corrupt official that could help ensure safe passage for De La Cruz Reyna. De La Cruz Reyna's co-conspirators met the undercover 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 to negotiate his release. He also admitted talking with another special agent in Atlanta, Ga., on two occasions to discuss his covert removal to Mexico.

The overall bribery scheme primarily involved these conditions; obtaining De La Cruz Reyna's unannounced removal to Mexico and 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 while he was in the Atlanta prison.

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 special agent was wearing his official credentials clearly indicating he was a federal law enforcement official.

On March 13, 2012, Nunez Venegas, Trejo Venegas and another alleged conspirator met with the undercover special agent and made the final payment. The next day, Nunez Venegas, Trejo Venegas, Venegas Esquivel and other alleged conspirators 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.

The cases against others charged in relation to this conspiracy are still pending. They are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

De La Cruz Reyna and those that pleaded guilty Monday will remain in federal custody pending their sentencing hearings set for July 30, at which time they each face up to 15 years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine, and up to a three-year term of supervised release.

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