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Leader of south Texas drug trafficking organization receives 4 life sentences

Organization had close ties to the Gulf Cartel and delivered drugs throughout 12 states

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A south Texas man was sentenced Wednesday to four life sentences in federal prison for his involvement in leading a drug trafficking organization for several years out of Brownsville, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

Julio Cesar Cardenas, 40, was convicted by a federal jury following a two-week trial that ended on May 31, 2013.

The case was investigated by the following agencies: Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation; FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; Cameron Country Sheriff’s Office; police departments in Brownsville and Harlingen; the Hidalgo and Cameron counties’ High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Forces; and the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office.

U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle handed down this sentence Dec. 11, noting her concern for the safety of the community due in part to his extensive criminal history. At the hearing, it was noted that this was Cardenas’ sixth felony conviction. Cardenas was sentenced on a total of 17 counts in two indictments and given other sentences ranging from five to 40 years to run concurrent with his four life sentences. He was also ordered to pay $1,700 restitution.

The life sentences imposed on Cardenas were for the following criminal convictions: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute about 31 kilograms of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute about 20 kilograms of cocaine.

Cardenas was arrested Sept. 13, 2012, and a weapon was found at his home. Evidence at trial established that he had commented about the need to get a gun out of his house within minutes of the seizure of 365 pounds of marijuana at the house of his co-conspirator. Since he was convicted in 1995 in three separate cases of delivering cocaine, he was prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms.

According to court testimony, Cardenas was one of 13 people originally charged in an indictment returned in June 2012. Prosecutors state that Cardenas led the drug trafficking organization whose aim was to distribute cocaine and marijuana through commercial freight lines to the following 12 states: Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Mississippi, South Carolina, Indiana and Illinois. After the marijuana and cocaine were sold in these states, Cardenas directed the illegal money remitting of the transportation costs and drug proceeds of the narcotics back to the Brownsville area by using cash deposits in bank accounts in the names of other individuals and co-conspirators. Branch banks were used in the receiving states with the money to be withdrawn by the co-conspirators here in Brownsville on a regular basis.

Testimony at trial demonstrated that Cardenas engaged in numerous drug trafficking and illegal money remitting conversations in March, April and June 2011. The investigation led law enforcement to four separate seizures of large amounts of marijuana during these months. Cardenas was also convicted of several other historical seizures of cocaine and marijuana.

The jury also heard that Cardenas had ties to the Gulf Cartel. Evidence established that Cardenas assisted in possessing about 31 kilograms (68 pounds) of cocaine in April 2011 that was supplied to a co-conspirator by an individual named "La Tia" from Matamoros, Mexico. La Tia was identified by several cooperating witnesses as an alleged high-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel.

Cardenas offered to help store and sell three kilograms (6 ½ pounds) of the total load of 31 kilograms. He also provided advice to the co-conspirator on how to deal with La Tia while the cocaine was being transported to Chicago, Ill. The jury heard that Cardenas advised the co-conspirator to employ violence, such as kidnapping and the use of a bomb, in their dispute with La Tia regarding the seizure of the 31 kilograms of cocaine by the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement has identified La Tia as Idalia Ramos Rangel, 58. She is a fugitive and has been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Brownsville and Little Rock, Ark., on separate narcotics trafficking indictments.

The government also presented evidence that Cardenas received more than $841,000 in bank deposits in the names of co-conspirators. Cardenas was the leader of the co-conspirators in the indictment and, on one occasion, wanted to steal electricity from a neighboring church to power one of the warehouses he was using to ship and package narcotics.

Cardenas will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The following 11 remaining defendants all pleaded guilty on various dates prior to the Cardenas trial.

  • Emmanuel Leal Mancha, 36, was sentenced to 46 months for illegal money remitting and possession with intent to distribute about 82 kilograms of marijuana;
  • Juan Gonzalez, 39, Pablo Torres, 22, and Ronny Robertson, 22, received respective sentences of 60, 37, and 24 months for possession with intent to distribute about 166 kilograms of marijuana.
  • For his two convictions of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, Byron Green, 33, was handed a 125-month sentence.
  • Guadalupe Vidaurri, 34, received 48 months for possession with intent to distribute about 194 kilograms of marijuana.
  • Alejandro Trevino, 38, received credit for time served for illegal money remitting.
  • Israel Avila was sentenced Dec. 10 to 40 months.
  • Three others – Juan Torres, Pablo Rodriguez and Carlos Lopez – are set for sentencing next year.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jody Young and Angel Castro, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case. Both attorneys are part of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force Operation "Hips Don’t Lie."


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Last Reviewed/Updated: 12/08/2014