Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Nephew of Mexican Cartel's Ex-Boss Pleads Guilty

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 |

By Christopher Sherman
Associated Press

Also posted in the Borderland Beat forum by Havana

The nephew of the former boss of Mexico's Gulf cartel crossed illegally into Texas to hide from a rival and spent five months running his drug operation from the U.S. before he was caught, a federal prosecutor said Monday.

Rafael Cardenas Vela pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and marijuana in exchange for the government dropping money laundering and immigration charges.

The 38-year-old mountain of a man with a middle school education and 500 armed men at his beck and call had grabbed control of the cartel's operations in Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, in early 2011 after a steady rise under the tutelage of two powerful uncles. But the Gulf cartel had been in turmoil since Mexican marines killed one of those uncles, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also known as "Tony Tormenta," in November 2010. Like others who ran afoul of rivals, Cardenas Vela sought refuge in the United States.

Last summer, U.S. authorities began hearing that Cardenas Vela was in the U.S. Through daily emails with subordinates he continued to manage the drug transportation and distribution cells that moved cocaine and marijuana across the border, north to Houston and on to cities deeper in the interior, Assistant U.S. attorney Jody Young said. He made more than $5 million in drug proceeds, the flow of which he also oversaw, ensuring some money went into the pockets of Mexican law enforcement officers as bribes.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen explained that the refuge Cardenas Vela sought would cost him at least 10 years and as much as life in prison. With his plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend that his punishment come at the lower end of the scale. His uncle Osiel Cardenas Guillen, long-time head of the Gulf cartel, made his own deal after his extradition to the U.S. and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010. Part of Cardenas Guillen's legal team flanked a shackled Cardenas Vela on Monday.

His attorneys declined to comment following the hearing.

Federal authorities had already been watching a ranch near the South Texas town of Rio Hondo when Port Isabel police officers pulled over a silver Ford F-150 pickup with temporary Texas tags for speeding just after 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20.

Cardenas Vela, who was in the front passenger seat, presented a Mexican passport and visa in a false name. Once confronted with his true identity, he admitted to being involved in bringing marijuana and cocaine into the U.S. for several years, according to court records.

Two others who were in the truck with him also were arrested. They pleaded guilty to giving false statements and were sentenced to time served in February.

Beginning in 2000, Cardenas Vela spent several years as the plaza boss of San Fernando, a small city about an hour south of Matamoros that sits on an important smuggling corridor. In the drug trafficking world a plaza is a territory, usually centered on a city, where traffickers move their own drugs and also charge a "piso," or tax, on anyone else who wants to use the corridor. Two years ago, Cardenas Vela took over as plaza boss of Rio Bravo, a Mexican border city east of Reynosa that was a major staging ground for the cartel's drugs before they crossed the border.

Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen's death set off an internal power struggle pitting Cardenas Vela and his supporters against Jorge Eduardo Costilla, who had worked for Osiel Cardenas Guillen. In March 2011, Cardenas Vela took control of the Matamoros plaza, but by May he had crossed illegally into the U.S. seeking refuge from Costilla, Young said.

Young said prosecutors were preparing a forfeiture order to seize assets Cardenas Vela purchased with drug proceeds. A house on a quiet Brownsville cul-de-sac was allegedly one such property, though prosecutors did not say whether Cardenas Vela ever lived there.

Hanen scheduled Cardenas Vela's sentencing for June 18.

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22 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

These 2nd and 3rd generation family cartel leaders are much weaker than their previous family members (with maybe the Engineer in TJ). This flake sang like a school girl for cops and wanted to live in the US to be safe...

Anonymous said...

its all clear el coss has taken over

Anonymous said...

Ten yrs. minimum, BS when you think of the Damage these people have done, the money they have cost honest people, the misery, THIS PLEA is a joke. Talk about weak, US DIASTRICT JUDGES ARE NOT ELECTED, Who is Andrew Hanen? The fact is that this guy will be out in 10-15b yrs go back to Mexico right back into the dope business!! We US tax payers will spend 50k a year warehousing this worthless animal.

Anonymous said...

Turn him over to the zetas for a nice video presentation.

Anonymous said...

This guy is a DEAD MAN WALKING!

Anonymous said...

Nice work Havana and BB.

Anonymous said...

This guy cause many injuries to many families in Rio Bravo and San Fernando, he was involved to give order to kill innocent people as well as rob business , ranch ,stolen of PEMEX gasoline , and many more ……the charge made in US are very poor to castigate this delinquent and killer.

Anonymous said...

Look, I don't want to talk like a smartass, but this guy is worth something to law enforcement. He knows everybody in the "family," right? Seems like a good candidate for the witness protection program.

Anonymous said...

I would think the united states would want to do a little better than this. They say he is only geing to get ten years or under.

Anonymous said...

i know this man personally and he has killed many, many people...and ordered the deaths of hundreds more....absurd to give him 10 years. I can see his ear twitching and him laughing...

Anonymous said...

stop lying you dont know that man and if so you should of turned him in for a nice reward

J said...

Ten is the minimum, I think he'll get 10 to 20. Was really interested in this story from the beginning. No one knows where the Gulf Cartel leadership stands now, only that there is infighting and separate factions. I think he was on the run when they caught him in October, been displaced as plaza boss, and running his own little crew.

Xxx=m3 said...

The company keeps going this is never gonna end

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what happened to "El quemado" he was El Coss's compadre

Anonymous said...

THEY ARE ALL SNITCHES!

Anonymous said...

You always hear these rumors that the Gulfos are just about finished but they never seem that weak and they go on and on and on. I'm waiting for a big retaliation for Apodaca. Or were those Narcomantas in Monterrey right after that signed by the Zetas fingering the Zeta owned governor from CDG?

Anonymous said...

But YOU ;most likely WILL end somewhere with a couple of balas in el culo. 3 Metros underground.

Anonymous said...

11:36 no, cdg is not done. They still control impormant plazas in tamps. People like to forget that.

Anonymous said...

Of those people he is alleged to have killed, how many were on U.S. soil? If none were committed in the U.S., why should we care if he's killed Mexicans? I know it sounds callous but in the grand scheme, he's worth more in intelligence then in jail for murders committed in another country that will likely never be proven.

Anonymous said...

There was talk on the forum that this guy was small because of the amounts of merchandise he pleaded guilty to moving. One of the ways to entice a defendant to plea is to lower the amounts alleged by the government. With the sentencing guideline structure being what it is, if the amounts are high, the defendants might want to risk trial instead of plea and sing and the prosecutor does not want a trial. It is not what you know, it is what you can prove. That is why these guys that order murders in Mexico never get charged with murder in US courts in connection with drug conspiracies. No admissible evidence about the murders. Mexico is not really investigating the murders. They just count bodies. Therefore, what evidence can they give US prosecutors? Zero. This guy is not the first or last that will not get all the time he deserves. Better he gets ten years in USA than a license to kill in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

I know him very well and the photo at top of the article is not even Jr.....go figure....Rediculous that a person of this magnitude of evil can get off with only 10 years. Scarey for the future of our country as well as that of Mexico. Jr moved far larger amounts that this. And they moved it by air, water, land/feet, as well.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ; that IS JR. Only this picture is about 8 years old. As far as
him being such an Animal; yes he was a
"Jeffe" what did you expect..? You don't become a "Jeffe" by being a "Nice" guy, you become a "Jeffe" by being a "Cold Blooded Murderer" like all Drug Boss's!
As far as (short)time in Prison you can be sure he's informing on all his cohorts and his family connections..!
Remember one of his Uncles is doing 20 years in the states and his other is
dead as a door nail, so all his power went out the window and now he has to snitch just to stay alive and get to keep some of his ill gotten gains just like Uncle Osiel..!

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