Thursday, March 4, 2010

Suspect is Top Cartel Operative

Witnesses: Suspect is top cartel operative

El Paso Times

El Chapo

El Paso, TX - Two witnesses testified Monday that a man on trial on drug-smuggling charges is one of Mexican kingpin Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman's top operatives.

The trial of Fernando Ontiveros-Arambula and Manuel Chavez-Betancourt resumes today in Judge David Briones' court. Both pleaded not guilty.

Silvia Carbajal, 26, a former girlfriend of Ontiveros-Arambula, testified that Ontiveros-Arambula told her "he was on the same level as 'Mayito.'"

"Mayito" is a nickname for an associate of the Sinaloa cartel in alliance with Guzman.

Carbajal said she worked for Ontiveros-Arambula as a drug smuggler and money courier, and had a child by him. She said he told her he flew into Mexico's interior for meetings with Guzman and other drug-traffickers, and also worked with a man nicknamed "Arabe."

U.S. federal officials arrested Carbajal at the Zaragoza bridge in 2008 after marijuana was found in the tires of the car she was driving. She said the marijuana belonged to Ontiveros-Arambula.

Carbajal said Ontiveros-Arambula, who also fathered a child with one of her sisters, had three bullet-proof vehicles and a staff of about 50 people.

She said she knew Ontiveros-Arambula before he became an important figure in the cartel, and accompanied him when she was 16 years old to drop off backpacks with drugs at the border.

"He told me he would help me with my charges, that he would provide information that I could give the (investigators) about Border Patrol agents who were involved in drug-trafficking, or about the 'marranos' (rival cartel members), but he didn't," she said.

She said she transported large packages containing cash to El Paso, and cities in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Kansas. She said Ontiveros-Arambula owned race horses and had ranches in Acension, Chihuahua, and the Mexican state of Durango. She said he also owned a store with her sister Ivonne Carbajal, who works for him.

Carbajal had several relatives who were involved in drug-trafficking. "I've always been around drugs since I was little," she said.

She said her sister warned her the family could be killed if she cooperated with U.S. officials. "If I opened my mouth, there was going to be a price on our family's heads ... I told her I was going to say what I knew," Carbajal said.

Carbajal worked as a dancer for the Tequila Sunrise and Prince Machiavelli strip clubs in El Paso and the Amadeus club in Juárez.

Jose Luis Terrazas, 41, a second witness who said he was a broker for drug smugglers, testified that other drug dealers told him Ontiveros-Arambula served directly under Guzman, a convicted drug dealer who escaped from a Mexican prison and is also sought by U.S. officials.

Guzman is considered the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which has waged a bloody battle in Juárez for the past two years for control of the smuggling corridor. Its main rival in Chihuahua state is the Carrillo Fuentes cartel.

Terrazas said he once saw Ontiveros-Arambula at horse races in far East El Paso County, and also testified that "Arabe" worked for the accused.

Ontiveros-Arambula and Chavez-Bentancourt are being tried together but have separate lawyers. Most of Monday's testimony concerned Ontiveros-Arambula.

Last week, another witness said he received vehicles in El Paso that contained drugs from Chavez-Betancourt.

On Monday, Carbajal said she saw Chavez-Betancourt at one of Ontiveros-Arambula's ranches, but his lawyer said he was in custody at the time she claimed to have seen him there.

According to court records, Chavez-Betancourt told U.S. officials he could not cooperate because he feared for his family's safety.

Witness says drug dealer cleared kingpin Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán pot path.

A regional drug dealer cleared the way for kingpin Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán to begin smuggling marijuana through Juárez, a witness testified Tuesday.

Jesús "Jesse" Aranda, 41, the witness, is one of the latest persons to testify in the federal trial of Fernando Ontiveros-Arambula and Manuel Chavez-Betancourt. Both defendants face drug-smuggling charges.

Some of his testimony provided insights into the events that led to unprecedented violence in Juárez during the past two years. Since 2008, more than 4,700 people have been killed in the border city.

"Oscar Martinez introduced me to 'Mayito.' He worked for 'La Linea' at the time," Aranda said. "He's the one who opened the door for 'Chapo' to come into Juárez. (Martinez) told me he opened the corridor for Mayito."

Mayito is a nickname for Ismael Zambada Niebla, a lieutenant in Guzmán's cartel who is on trial in Chicago on drug charges. Guzmán, an international fugitive, is the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

La Linea is a nickname for the cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes.

Aranda, an admitted drug broker or middle man, said Martinez told him he wanted to work with Zambada because it was easier to get marijuana from Guzmán's people. U.S. authorities arrested Aranda in Colorado on cocaine smuggling charges in a case unrelated to the trial under way in El Paso.

The Carrillo Fuentes cartel had no problem providing cocaine, but was unable to provide as much pot as Guzmán's cartel, he said.

Aranda also said he ran into trouble when he failed to collect money for a load of marijuana he that brokered and that he understood belonged to Ontiveros-Arambula.

He tried to hire a bounty hunter to help him find a man named Carlos Carrillo, who was responsible for the payment, but was unable to find him despite searching in several U.S. cities, he said.

Aranda said he started getting pressure from the people in Juárez who had provided the marijuana, and feared for his safety. He said someone else failed to forward one of his payments to the marijuana owners in Mexico.

"They (cartel members) put people on a list. They have some people, they find you, (and) they kill you if you don't pay the money," Aranda said.

He said he considered injecting Carlos Carrillo with morphine if he found him, so he could take him forcibly to Juárez in exchange for saving his own life.

Later, he said, Zambada offered to help him because he trusted him. Zambada had taken all of Martinez's former people under his wing. Martinez was thought to have been killed.

Aranda said he also learned that Guzmán took Marcos Martinez, brother of Oscar Martinez, to work for him in Sinaloa state.

"All of Pedro's people were being taken down," Aranda said, referring to Pedro Sanchez, the Carrillo Fuentes cartel's top man in Chihuahua state.

Sanchez, who was captured, is in the custody of Mexican authorities.

Around June 2008, Aranda said, a drug war erupted because marijuana was hard to get and the price for pot soared.

The result was that "anybody who owed (money) better have it or end up dead," Aranda said.

From the evidence of May 2008 wiretaps presented at the trial, it was apparent that U.S. investigators were investigating in earnest the movements of drug dealers in the area just as the drug wars began to intensify.

During the trial, several witnesses testified that Ontiveros-Arambula, who lived in far east El Paso County, was equal in rank to Zambada and worked directly under Guzmán. He owned ranches in Chihuahua and Durango states, and had three bullet-proof vehicles.

The trial continues today in U.S. District Judge David Briones' court.

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