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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Former City Employee Led Cartel

Houston Chronicle

Jaime Zamora was free on bond when he was arrested by the DEA.

Houston, TX - A former Houston Parks Department employee turned narco-trafficker admitted in federal court Tuesday that he led a drug cartel cell that moved millions of dollars worth of cocaine from Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston.

Authorities have long contended that after his brother was murdered in Mexico, Jaime Zamora took sole control of the business in Houston, exchanging bulk cash and drugs in his East End home, as well as in his parents' house across the street.

On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine after he was snared in an undercover operation by a drug enforcement agent .

He also is accused in state court of masterminding the Houston killing of a man he mistakenly thought was a hated drug rival, “El Narizon,” Spanish for Big Nose. Instead, the victim of the killing was just a man out having dinner with his family, shot down as his children watched.

While Zamora is still waiting to go to trial on the murder charges, his alleged accomplice and middle man in the slaying was in state court Tuesday in the killing gone awry.

Taken together, the cases unfolding in Houston courtrooms are slowly unraveling much of the mystery and mayhem behind the influence of drug cartels in America's fourth largest city.

It was back in 2006 that Zamora's gangsters roamed Houston with an endless flow of cash to fill their gas tanks and comb the bars, restaurants and anywhere else as they hunted for “Narizon,” whose real name was Santiago Salinas, according to a recording played in the 185th District Court Tuesday.

“Everybody was looking for Narizon,” Steven Torres, who is accused of capital murder, told police during a recorded interrogation.

Salinas, aka “Narizon” had supposedly thrown grenades at a Zamora clan gathering, which included children, in Monterrey, Mexico — and his enemies were seeking payback.

Ultimately, the gangsters tracked him to Chilos, a seafood restaurant on the Gulf Freeway, but when the moment to kill came, the hit men in the parking lot got the wrong guy.

As they shot the man to death, Salinas, sat at another table in the restaurant unnoticed and escaped.

“The little girl was screaming, ‘They shot my daddy, they shot my daddy,' ” recalled Philip Ramos, a security guard who ran to the parking lot.

Salinas, the gangster who is visible in a security camera video, was killed several months later at the Baymont Inn & Suites, about two miles from Chilos. No one is yet charged in his death.

At the time he was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency on drug charges, Zamora — also a former Little League coach — had already been charged with capital murder in the Chilos killing, but was free on $450,000 bond.

Zamora conceded that for at least three years he headed a gang that he moved millions of dollars worth of cocaine into Houston as well as sent the proceeds back to Mexico. His brother Danny “Danny Boy” Zamora was higher up in the drug-world food chain and was known to cruise Monterrey with an entourage of bodyguards.

His brother was killed in Mexico not long after the Chilos killing when Salinas apparently figured out the assassins had been after him.

Assistant District Attorney Will Womble told jurors in the state court trial, which is expected to last the rest of this week, that what they hear might be shocking, perhaps even unbelievable.

“What you are about to hear may sound like a Hollywood classic,” he said. “It is frighteningly real.”

Torres has maintained he didn't know he was being enlisted for a hit. Instead he says was asked on short notice to get some “crash dummies” over to Chilos. Crash dummies is a slang term for criminals desperate enough to do the most brazen of crimes for money.

They were told their target was wearing a sports-team shirt.

The man they mistakenly killed wore a Houston Astros jersey.

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