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Transnational Gangs

Jury convicts Texas inmate of methamphetamine trafficking

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A Brownsville, Texas man was convicted Wednesday by a federal jury of drug trafficking in a conspiracy that involved gang leadership both inside and outside the Texas prison system, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

These convictions are the result of an ongoing joint investigation dubbed "Operation Prison Cell" led by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Office of Inspector General; and the Corpus Christi Police Department Organized Gang Crime Units.

Juan Ledezma, 40, was one of the final defendants to be found guilty in a 13-count indictment that involved 32 individuals, 13 of whom are former McConnell Unit prison guards. The jury returned its guilty verdict after two days of trial and one hour of deliberation. Of the 32 defendants in the case, 29 have now been convicted and two are fugitives. The final defendant, Melissa Lozano, is set for trial July 22. She is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty through due process of law.

"While he should have been serving time, this prisoner served a meth trafficking organization instead," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Thanks to the great work of the Operation Prison Cell investigators, prosecutors and support staff, that won't be the case anymore."

During the trial, the jury heard testimony that Ledezma acted as an intermediary between drug traffickers in south Texas and Mexico. He had connections to drug suppliers and, utilizing illegal cell phones smuggled into the prison by corrupt guards, coordinated with other prisoners to organize drug deals inside and outside the prison. Jurors heard that prisoners made phone calls to Ledezma while in the McConnell Unit of Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). In the calls, Ledezma agreed to help arrange for six pounds of methamphetamine to be purchased in Corpus Christi and distributed in Arkansas. The buyers of the methamphetamine were to pay more than $20,000 per pound for the drug.

Ledezma and others stood to make thousands of dollars in profit from inside their prison cells on this one deal alone. The jury also heard that HSI agents watched as a transfer of a drug sample took place in McAllen. The drug deal ultimately was unsuccessful, yet resulted in conspiracy charges for Ledezma and others.

Numerous other inmates and gang members on the street have also pleaded guilty in this and previously related prosecutions, to include: Preston Mascorro, Jerome Aranda, Israel Plazola, Michael Ornelas, Jose Manuel Ledezma, Rudy Rodriguez, Anthony Torres, Ricky Alejandro, Martin Guardiola III and Stephen Ayala, all of which resulted in lengthy federal prison sentences.

Ledezma faces up to life in prison and an $8 million fine. He will remain in custody pending sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Patterson and Michael Hess, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.