CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Several South Texas men and one from Houston have been arrested on charges including a marijuana trafficking conspiracy and laundering monetary instruments during an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Operation (OCDETF) dubbed “Operation Black Mask,” announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Josue Estrada, 37, of Rio Grande City, was arrested Wednesday, April 29 and is expected to make his initial appearance in McAllen Thursday at 9 a.m. before United States Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby.
Gustavo Garza-Avalos as known as Tavo, 36, of Houston, was arrested April 28 as were Rio Grande City residents Roel Rodriguez, 18, Elijio Perez, 24, Juan Antonio Perez as known as Nune, 24, Luis De La Cruz, 47, Edgar Marroquin-Benavides, 35, Ricardo Gonzalez, 40, Jairo Gonzalez-Hernandez as known as Toluca, 27, and Manuel Everardo Lopez as known as Aldo, 33. Garza-Avalos made his initial appearance Wednesday in Houston, while the others appeared before Judge Ormsby in McAllen. All were ordered into custody pending their respective detention hearings.
The indictment remains sealed as to those charged but not as yet in custody.
All were charged in a sealed indictment returned March 11, 2015, which was unsealed upon each arrest.
The indictment charges all with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana between June 1, 2012, and the date of the indictment. Rodriguez and Elijio Perez are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering on Dec. 2, 2013. A third count also charges Elijio Perez with being felon in possession of a firearm on that date.
Also included in the indictment is a notice that the government is seeking a personal money judgment from the defendants in the amount of $250,000.
If convicted of the marijuana conspiracy, each faces not less than 10 and up to life in federal prison as well as a possible $10 million fine. If convicted of the money laundering charge, Rodriguez and Elijio Perez face up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $500,000 fine (or twice the value of the monetary instrument or funds involved in the transactions or both). Elijio Perez further faces another 10 years in prison on the firearm charge, upon conviction.
The investigation leading to the indictment was conducted through OCDETF in Corpus Christi, McAllen, Falcon Dam and Houston by Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Border Patrol, Alice Police Department, sheriff’s offices in Jim Wells and Harris Counties, Starr County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, Texas Department of Public Safety and the United States Marshals Service.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Julie K. Hampton.