By Daniel Borunda and Adriana M. Chávez
El Paso Times
Jesus Espino, left, and Lorenzo Espino (Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office)
The reputed leader of the Barrio Azteca's West Side crew was among four El Pasoans who recently pleaded guilty after a crackdown on the violent gang in response to the killings of three people connected with the U.S. Consulate in Juárez.
Jesus Espino, 43, and Lorenzo "Oso" Espino, 51, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court and Roberto Angel "Little Angelillo" Cardona and his wife, Desiree Gamboa Cardona, pleaded guilty on Aug. 2, the U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday.
Officials said the Espino brothers and Roberto Cardona pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. Desiree Cardona pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.
These guilty pleas are part of a larger organized crime case against the Barrio Azteca stemming from the slayings of three people in Juárez linked to the U.S. Consulate.
The U.S. and Mexican governments allege Aztecas were responsible for the attacks that killed U.S. Consulate employee Lesley Enriquez Redelfs and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, an El Paso County sheriff's detention officer.
On March 13, 2010, the Redelfs had left a consulate-linked children's party when their vehicle was ambushed by gunmen on a Juárez street near the border.
Jorge Alberto Salcido Ce niceros, whose wife worked at the consulate, was killed in a separate shooting after leaving the same party within minutes of the Redelfs. Salcido also was riding in a small white sport utility vehicle.
Mexican authorities said the gang hit was approved by José Antonio Acosta Hernández, a reputed Juárez drug cartel boss known as "El Diego" who was arrested in July in Chihuahua City.
In an interview filmed by Mexican federal police, Acosta said he approved the deadly attack because it was believed the victims were working for a rival group. "Afterward, we learned they had nothing to do with it," Acosta said in the video.
Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, the reputed leader of the Barrio Azteca in Juárez and a fugitive on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, was also indicted in the case but remains at large.
The four El Pasoans who pleaded guilty were among 35 alleged gang leaders, members and associates indicted in March by the U.S. government accused of racketeering, drug-trafficking and money-laundering conspiracy.
The Espino brothers and Cardona's wife were among a dozen people arrested by an FBI-led multi-agency team during raids targeting the gang last March in El Paso and Southern New Mexico. Roberto Cardona was already in custody.
An FBI agent testified during a detention hearing that Jesus Espino ran a crew of the Barrio Azteca that oversaw the gang's territory stretching from West El Paso to Las Cruces.
The military-style gang divides El Paso into regions, and separate crews have the task of collecting "street taxes" or "quotas" from drug dealers on their turf. Proceeds are funneled to members in prison.
Court documents stated Jesus Espino had been an active member of the Barrio Azteca for many years.
According to the indictment, telephone wiretaps recorded Jesus Espino discussing heroin deals and extortions with his brother and underlings.
Jesus Espino was also accused of authorizing two gang soldiers to confront a drug dealer on Oct. 29 for the purpose of opening a "tiendita" (a "little store," or gang code for a drug-selling spot) in West El Paso.
Officials said Lorenzo Espino, who previously showed up to court in a wheelchair, was not a gang member but an associate.
"As an associate, he worked primarily on the West Side of El Paso, delivering controlled substances, including heroin, to drug purchasers and collecting BA drug proceeds and extortion fees," court documents stated.
According to the indictment, Roberto Cardona and another gang member were involved in the delivery of 14 ounces of black tar heroin to the Montana Motel in El Paso on April 25, 2010.
The indictment also stated that Desiree Cardona was recorded on telephone calls talking about her role in sending money to gang members in prison.
A plea agreement calls for Jesus Espino to receive a 30-year sentence. Lorenzo Espino and Roberto Cardona may face up to life in prison. Desiree Cardona faces up to 20 years in prison.
Roberto and Desiree Cardona are scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16 before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone. A sentencing date for the Espino brothers has not been set.
The Barrio Azteca crime organization is a vital player in Juárez's lethal violence and serves as the infantry for the Juárez drug cartel.
The gang has established chapters in Juárez, El Paso and West Texas, and members in prisons across the United States.