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Leader of the Zapata drug trafficking and money laundering organization pleads guilty

LAREDO, Texas – The leader of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization operating near Zapata, Texas, pleaded guilty on Thursday. The case is a result of a three-year investigation by various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Pedro Navarro Jr., 36, of Zapata, pleaded guilty Dec. 8 for his role in moving marijuana and methamphetamines and laundering proceeds from drug sales that began June 2006 and ran through June 2011.

According to court documents, Navarro admitted that between February 2008 and June 2011, he was responsible for transporting numerous loads of controlled substances from the Zapata-area to other parts of Texas and beyond. Some of these drug loads were seized by law enforcement, including numerous loads of marijuana totaling thousands of kilograms and about five kilograms of methamphetamine which was seized in Beasley, Texas, on or about April 5, 2011.

During court proceedings, Navarro also admitted he was a member and leader of the drug trafficking conspiracy responsible for these marijuana and methamphetamine loads. In addition to being responsible for transporting drugs, he also admitted to using a residence to store the marijuana after it had been smuggled from Mexico into the United States. This marijuana would normally be ferried across a lake from Mexico at night in small boats, which would pull up to his residence located on the lake. There, individuals would then unload the marijuana. Navarro would then ensure the marijuana was loaded into passenger vehicles at the residence, which were driven to final destination points.

Navarro also admitted that he conspired with others to launder money, which represented the proceeds of his drug trafficking. He agreed to transport large amounts of U.S. currency, which were the proceeds of drug trafficking, from the Zapata-area to Mexico. He did this with the intention of promoting the continued operation of his drug trafficking business. Navarro specifically agreed to help transport this money to Mexico, where it would be given to other members of the drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracies.

One of the specific loads of money for which Navarro was responsible included about $23,425 seized at or near Hebbronville, Texas, on March 9, 2010. Navarro also used some of the proceeds he made from drug trafficking to build a residence in Zapata. During the course of the drug trafficking conspiracy, the members of conspiracy were responsible for generating illicit proceeds in the amount of at least $18 million.

In addition to the guilty plea on Thursday, 15 additional co-conspirators have also pleaded guilty to various drug trafficking and money laundering charges. These individuals include: Alex Navarro, 21; Servando Guerrero Jr. aka "Mariachi, 36; Sandalio Ramos aka "Lalo," 41; Rene Davila, 29; Leonel Rodriguez aka "La Dona", 41; Juan Luis Rivera, 29; Jorge Grajeda Jr., 28; Juan Antonio Valadez Sr., 53; Jose Luis Gonzalez-Chapa, 23; Judith Zamora, 26; Clauida Medrano, 27; Leonides Navarro, 21; Maria Micaela Berrones, 23; Andres Quintero-Ortiz aka "Chango", 46; and Hermes Ramsden Leal, 19.

Sentencing for these 15 individuals and Navarro has not yet been scheduled. At sentencing, each faces a minimum of five years and up to life in prison, without parole, depending on their respective roles in the offenses and criminal history. In addition, as a result of their convictions, each defendant faces a fine ranging from $4 to $20 million.

In addition to the convictions of the 16 people listed above, the investigation has resulted in the seizure of more than 10,000 kilograms of marijuana, about five kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 30 grams of crack cocaine, as well as proceeds of illegal drug sales.

The following law enforcement agencies conducted this three-year investigation: the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations Division, with assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the sheriff's departments in Zapata, Webb, Fort Bend, and Jim Hogg Counties, as well as police departments in La Joya and El Campo, Texas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Arthur R. Jones, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.