Saturday, June 30, 2012

Organized Crime: Barrio Azteca gang leader sentenced to life in prison for murder

U.S. Department of Justice 
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON—A leader and two soldiers in the Barrio Azteca (BA), a transnational border gang allied with the Juarez Cartel, were sentenced in El Paso, Texas, to life, 30 and 20 years in prison, respectively, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas, FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Morgan of the FBI’s El Paso Office and Administrator Michele M. Leonhart of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Hector Galindo, 38, aka “Silent,” of El Paso, currently serving a 25-year Texas state sentence for murder, was sentenced to life prison. Ricardo Gonzales, 44, aka “Cuate,” of Anthony, N.M., was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Adam Garcia, 35, aka “Bad Boy,” of El Paso, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Galindo, Gonzales and Garcia were charged in a 12-count third superseding indictment unsealed in March 2011. They were sentenced yesterday in the Western District of Texas. Galindo, Gonzales and Garcia pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering (RICO) on Jan. 26, 2012, Jan. 18, 2012, and Jan. 29, 2012, respectively.

According to court documents and information presented in court, Galindo was a top Lieutenant in the BA. While incarcerated in the Texas Department of Corrections, he served as the right hand man to BA Captain Manuel Cardoza. In that role, Galindo maintained communication with other BA Captains and Lieutenants in the United States and Mexico and was specifically in charge of BA operations in Texas. Evidence was presented that Gonzales and Garcia were BA soldiers, whose duties included distributing drugs, picking up money from dealers and enforcement operations within their area of responsibility.

“As members of the Barrio Azteca gang, Hector Galindo, Ricardo Gonzales and Adam Garcia participated in a brutal criminal enterprise dedicated to spreading fear and violence on both sides of the border,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “These prison sentences send a strong message that even the most powerful and ruthless gangs cannot evade justice. Our prosecution of the Barrio Azteca gang, including for the U.S. Consulate-related murders in Juarez, Mexico, in 2010, has led to convictions against 24 gang members and leaders. We will continue aggressively to pursue the Barrio Azteca and other gangs so that communities in the United States and Mexico can live free from the violence and destruction of organized crime.”

“These sentences represent the FBI’s commitment to the aggressive pursuit of criminal enterprises such as the Barrio Aztecas whose presence pose a significant risk to citizens on both sides of the border,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Morgan. “Through the ongoing and joint efforts of the law enforcement community we will continue the fight to bring to justice predators such as Galindo, Gonzales and Garcia.”

“This investigation highlights an unfortunate reality: leaders within growing trans-national prison and street gangs like the Barrio Azteca continue to promote violence and manage their drug trafficking activities even after the cell door closes,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart. “However, the successful prosecutions of Galindo, Gonzales and Garcia, and the conviction of other Barrio Azteca members reinforce another reality: that wherever these dangerous organizations operate, DEA and its partners will aggressively follow, investigate and prosecute.”

A total of 35 BA members and associates based in the United States and Mexico were charged in the third superseding indictment for allegedly committing various criminal acts, including racketeering, narcotics distribution and importation, retaliation against persons providing information to U.S. law enforcement, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice and murder, including the 2010 Juarez consulate murders. Of the 35 defendants charged, 33 have been apprehended, including April Cardoza, who was found in Juarez, Mexico, last week. Twenty-four of those defendants have pleaded guilty, one defendant committed suicide while imprisoned during his trial and six others are pending extradition from Mexico. U.S. and Mexican law enforcement are actively seeking to apprehend the two remaining fugitives in this case, including Luis Mendez and Eduardo Ravelo, an FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive.

Today’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Western District Court of Texas marks the closure of the case against the U.S.-based defendants charged in the superseding indictment. Twenty-one of 22 U.S.-based defendants have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced, including another BA Lieutenant Roberto Angel Cardona, who was also sentenced to life by Judge Cardone on Feb. 17, 2012. The remaining U.S.-based defendant, Ramon Renteria, aka “Spooky,” took his own life while in prison during his trial. Witnesses testified that Renteria was a BA Captain, the highest rank of the Barrio Azteca, and the only U.S.-based Captain not currently serving a life sentence in prison.

According to court documents and information presented in court throughout this case, the Barrio Azteca is a violent street and prison gang that began in the late 1980s and expanded into a transnational criminal organization. In the 2000s, the BA formed an alliance in Mexico with “La Linea,” which is part of the Juarez Drug Cartel (also known as the Vincente Carrillo Fuentes Drug Cartel or “VCF”). The purpose of the BA-La Linea alliance was to battle the Chapo Guzman Cartel and its allies for control of the drug trafficking routes through Juarez and Chihuahua. The drug routes through Juarez, known as the Juarez Plaza, are important to drug trafficking organizations because they are a principal illicit drug trafficking conduit into the United States.

According to evidence presented in court, witnesses testified to the brutality of the BA. Inside and outside of prison, the gang thrives on violence—from gang beatings to drive-by shootings to murder—all in order to discipline its own members or fight against rivals. Testimony also indicated that the BA is well-organized and militaristic in structure. Its members, or “soldiers,” are governed by captains, various lieutenants and numerous sergeants in the United States and Mexico.

Witnesses also testified that the sale of illegal drugs is the life-blood of the BA. Evidence was presented that since 2003 the BA has trafficked hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and heroin. Because of the BA’s alliance with the Juarez Drug Cartel, the gang receives illegal drugs at low cost and profits on its importation, sale and distribution within the United States.

Witnesses also testified to the Barrio Azteca’s practice of extorting “quota” or taxes on non-BA drug dealers who sold illegal narcotics in El Paso and the greater West Texas and Eastern New Mexico area. Specifically, during today’s hearing, one witness recalled an instance in which Gonzales tried to collect an extortion fee from a New Mexico drug dealer, and when the dealer refused to pay, Gonzalez pulled a gun, put it to dealer’s head, and threatened to kill him.

When quota is collected by the BA, members and leaders deposit the money into the commissary accounts of incarcerated BA leaders, often using fake names or female associates to send the money by wire transfer. Galindo was one of the ranking members of the BA who would receive laundered funds and disperse it within the Texas State prison system to further the criminal goals of the enterprise.

Witnesses also testified to the extensive communication web of the BA, including utilizing coded letters, contraband cell phones within state and federal prison facilities, and distribution of membership rosters and hit lists. Witnesses specifically implicated Galindo, then incarcerated in the Coffield Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as the central leader within the organization who kept track of membership records, hit lists and gang treaties for the BA. To update those lists, members and other leaders would contact Galindo on his contraband prison cell phone to verify the status of persons claiming to be BA members and ensure that they were in good standing with the criminal organization. Those not in good standing were targeted by the BA for assault or murder.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Joseph A. Cooley of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, Trial Attorney Brian Skaret of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney George Leal of the Western District of Texas—El Paso Division. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico provided significant assistance in this case, including by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Davenport. Valuable assistance was provided by the Criminal Division’s Offices of International Affairs and Enforcement Operations.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s El Paso Field Office, Albuquerque Field Office (Las Cruces Resident Agency), DEA Juarez and DEA El Paso. Special assistance was provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Federal Bureau of Prisons; U.S. Diplomatic Security Service; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; El Paso Police Department; El Paso County Sheriff’s Office; El Paso Independent School District Police Department; Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission; New Mexico State Police; Dona Ana County, N.M., Sheriff’s Office; Las Cruces, N.M., Police Department; Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility and Otero County Prison Facility New Mexico.