HSI, federal investigation results in criminal charges unsealed against 12 individuals in scheme to monopolize transmigrante industry and extort competitors near US-Mexico border
HARLINGEN, Texas — The Department of Justice has announced the unsealing of an 11-count indictment charging 12 individuals in a long-running, multifaceted conspiracy to monopolize the transmigrante forwarding industry in the Los Indios border region near Harlingen and Brownsville following an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Transmigrantes are individuals who transport used vehicles and other goods from the United States through Mexico for resale in Central America. Transmigrante forwarding agencies are businesses that provide services to transmigrante clients, including helping those clients complete the customs paperwork required to export vehicles into Mexico.
According to the indictment, Carlos Favian Martinez, 36, of Mission; Marco Antonio Medina, 32, Rigoberto Brown, 38, and Miguel Hipolito Caballero Aupart, 70, all of Brownsville; Pedro Antonio Calvillo Hernandez, 47, Tamaulipas, Mexico; Roberto Garcia Villareal, 56, San Benito; Sandra Guerra Medina, 68, Rancho Viejo; and Mireya Miranda, 56, La Feria, conspired to fix prices and allocate the market for transmigrante services in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. They also allegedly conspired to monopolize the same market in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act. The indictment alleges they implemented price-fixing agreements and created a centralized entity known as “the pool” to collect and divide revenues.
Transmigrante agency owners and industry participants who refused to charge the fixed prices, pay into the pool or pay an extortion tax were subjected to threats, intimidation and acts of violence against themselves and their families, employees, associates and businesses, according to the charges.
Martinez, Medina, Calvillo and Garcia, along with Diego Ceballos-Soto, 48, of Matamoros, Mexico, and Carlos Yzaguirre, 63, of Mission, were also charged with one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion. The indictment alleges several violent acts perpetrated against transmigrante industry participants and individuals closely associated with them who disrupted the scheme or refused to pay the extortion fees. Martinez, Ceballos-Soto and Yzaguirre were also charged with one count of interference in commerce by extortion. They allegedly forced one transmigrante agency owner to pay more than $80,000 for operating outside of the pool and failing to pay the extortion tax.
Finally, Martinez, Medina, Calvillo, Ceballos-Soto and Yzaguirre, along with Juan Hector Ramirez Avila, 32, and Jose de Jesus Tapia Fernandez, 44, both of Brownsville, were charged with money laundering conspiracy and substantive counts of money laundering related to the underlying scheme.
“The indictment charges that defendants monopolized an industry through horrific violence and threats of violence,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The department will use all the tools at its disposal — including Section 2 of the Sherman Act — to target anticompetitive conduct that undermines our country’s economic vitality and freedom.”
“As alleged, this criminal organization committed heinous acts of violence against those who would not participate in its illegal activities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Together with our partners, we are committed to dismantling violent enterprises that victimize individuals simply trying to earn an honest living.”
“The charges announced today demonstrate our office’s commitment to protecting Texans from violent crime and exploitive business practices,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery. “Working with our partners across the government, we will continue to investigate and prosecute violent criminals who prey on our communities.”
“Today’s actions are the result of the FBI’s continued collaborative efforts with our law enforcement partners in this important investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Oliver E. Rich Jr. of the FBI San Antonio Division. “The FBI remains dedicated to protecting American communities from threats of violence and economic crime.”
HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats — specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.