A group of Laredo, Texas residents are in custody after the return of two separate but related indictments related to large-scale cannabis distribution.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery on Monday announced the indictments, which included 20 individuals in ages ranging from 21 to 40.
On June 29, a federal grand jury returned a sealed three-count indictment charging Gavino Cadena (33), Sergio Rodriguez (37), Arturo Villarreal (22), and Edgar Alejandro Mashuca (34).
The indictment charges the men with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms or more of cannabis on February 5-21, 2019.
The second indictment, also returned on June 29, alleges Jose Gerardo Gutierrez-Gonzales (23), Alberto Duenes-Perez (34), Alberto Castro (40), Leonardo Garza (40), Juan Lopez (30), Jose Hernandez-Vazquez (37), Jesus Rodriguez (37), Francisco Arturo Neri (22), Eduardo Javier Vazquez (21), Carlos Alejo Soliz (21), Carlos Erik Lopez (21), and Jonathon Guadalupe Rodriguez-Rivera (29) conspired to possess and distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of cannabis between March 28, 2019, and April 23, 2020.
Most of the men were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Diana Song Quiroga on Monday afternoon in Laredo.
According to a Department of Justice press release, some are also charged with substantive counts of cannabis possession with intent to distribute on varying dates during the same period.
Alaniz and Garcia were charged through a related criminal complaint alleging conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of cannabis between March 28 and May 15, 2019.
Upon conviction, all men involved face a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in federal prison and a maximum $10 million fine.
Those charged with substantive possession counts may face additional maximum terms ranging from 40 years to life in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Day is prosecuting the case.
The investigation, named Operation Noreste, was the result of efforts by the Blue Indigo Task Force and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force OCDETF.
The OCDETF aims to disrupt and dismantle the most prominent drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations through “prosecutor-led, multi-agency task forces that leverage the authorities and expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement.”
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Laredo Police Department conducted the investigation with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Border Patrol, FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. National Guard, Webb County District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Constable’s Office, Precincts 1 and 4, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.