National Guardsman Jose Padilla.
A drug smuggling ring accused of working with Mexico’s Gulf Cartel was dismantled Thursday after 11 people, including a U.S. National guardsman, were arrested in connection with the case Wednesday.
The bust was a joint effort by numerous law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the city’s police department, said Police Chief Victor Rodriguez. The sweep also is occurring in Central and Latin America, with law enforcement there leading the effort.
Officers seized more than 6 tons of marijuana, about 145 pounds of cocaine, 12 automatic and semi-automatic weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, grenades, body armor and camouflage netting during two raids in McAllen on Wednesday, Rodriguez said.
The first seizure happened about 5 p.m. in the 700 block of IJ Street and the second occurred in the 1100 block of West Gardenia Street, police said. Officers were at a third location as a news conference about the sweep took place Thursday afternoon, and investigators planned to move to a possible fourth location after that, Rodriguez added. Police did not disclose addresses for the additional raids.
Much of what officials seized allegedly was provided to the group, which claimed to be working with the Gulf Cartel in Reynosa, by Guardsman Jose Francisco Padilla, 20, of San Juan, police said.
“(Padilla) is a source of the flak equipment…30-caliber weapons and ammunition,” Rodriguez said. “We know he is an active national guardsman, but I don’t know what his assignment is.”
Padilla, however, might not be working alone, and officials continue to investigate, the chief said.
Police believe the guardsman worked closely with the ring’s alleged leader. 20-year-old Edgar Daniel Zapata, who also was arrested. Zapata allegedly reached out to family members and friends, also arrested, to traffic the seized items, police said.
The dismantling of the group was carried out partially in response to the death of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata, who was killed Feb. 15 in Mexico when a group of armed men, believed to be a part of the Zeta organization, attacked the vehicle he and his partner, Victor Avila, were traveling in along the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi.
Zapata’s death, considered one of the most high-profile cases since the 1985 kidnapping and killing of DEA Agent Enrique ‘Kiki” Camarena, brought national attention to the ongoing drug war in Mexico that has left more than 35,000 people dead since President Felipe Calderon launched an initiative against organized crime in 2006.
A nationwide sweep in the United States, targeting those who work with cartels, was launched Wednesday night and is meant to send a clear message to members of organized crime. It is expected to continue today.
“We are resolved to fight for the cause that Agent Zapata died for,” Rodriguez said. “We are resolved to make our community safer, and the one way this happens is through the members of our community who report suspicious activity to us.”
While the nationwide sweeps are a direct response to Zapata’s killing, the majority of suspects already were targets of other investigations, The Associated Press reported.
Wednesday’s bust was part of an ongoing investigation between the McAllen Police Department and ICE’s Border Enforcement Security Task Force, a series of multi-agency teams developed to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations posing significant threats to border security, said ICE Spokeswoman Nina Pruneda.
“The worst enemy that these guys have are citizens on the street that report suspicious activity to us,” Rodriguez said. “That’s how this case started, and that’s how other cases will start in the future.”
McAllen police will lead the investigation in regard to the arrests and seizures, but will turn it over to DEA, ICE and ATF for further investigation, Rodriguez said. ICE is expected to work on the weapons investigation, Pruneda added.
The 11 suspects who were arrested face a variety of different federal charges that will be determined at a later time, Rodriguez said.
“The family of law enforcement has grown stronger and more resolved,” he added. “We are working closer.”
The 11 people arrested were identified as:
Jose Francisco Padilla, 30;
Edgar Daniel Zapata, 30;
Francisco Ivan Zapata, 25;
Isidro De La Paz, 22;
J. Guadalupe Marti Reyes, 48;
Arturo Ortiz Zapata, 52;
Alma San Juana Pecina, 46;
Rene Alberto Loera, 38;
Jose Leonso Pecina, 30;
Jose Rafael Chavira, 34;
Jose Arturo Reyes, 28.
photos: Valley Central.com