Gulf Cartel Figure and Five Others Sentenced to Prison in Bribery Scheme

Brownsville, Texas - Juan Carlos De La Cruz Reyna, 37, has been sentenced to another 11+ years in federal prison after having been convicted of bribery of a public official, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Also sentenced today were co-defendants Julio Adolfo Torres, Carlos Melo, Gaspar Montes-Martinez, Juan Trejo Venegas, and Jose Cruz Venegas.

All previously pleaded guilty at varying times between April 23, 2012, and May 10, 2012.

Today, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who accepted the guilty pleas, handed De La Cruz Reyna to a total of 135 months in federal prison and further ordered he pay a $100,000 fine. Torres, 40, received a sentence of 120 months, while Melo, 38, Montes-Martinez, 42, Trejo Venegas, 34, and Venegas Esquivel, 37, were sentenced to 84, 46, 46, and 24 months, respectively. Montes-Martinez was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Adalberto Nunez Venegas, 40, also charged and convicted in the case will be sentenced in January 2013.

 

The convictions stem as a result of an investigation launched as De La Cruz Reyna was set to be released from federal prison after serving 30 months for a previous conviction related to an assault against federal agents in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico in November 1999. Those assaults were conducted at the direction of Osiel Cardenas Guillen—then leader of the Gulf Cartel.

 

After completion of that sentence, De La Cruz Reyna would normally have been returned to Mexican authorities at either a Port of Entry along the U.S.-Mexican border or flown to the interior of Mexico as he had no status in the U.S. However, fearing possible prosecution by Mexican authorities or being taken into custody by a rival drug cartel, De La Cruz Reyna admitted he bribed a federal official in an attempt to ensure safe passage to Mexico. Through the co-conspirators, De La Cruz Reyna made a total of $797,000 in bribe payments over the course of the scheme.

 

At his direction, De La Cruz Reyna’s co-conspirators met an undercover officer, who they thought was a corrupt Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent, on numerous occasions from May 2011 to March 2012 and made several bribe payments. During this period, De La Cruz Reyna admitted he spoke with the agent from prison on numerous occasions about bribery payments and to negotiate his release and with another agent in Atlanta, Georgia on two occasions to discuss his covert removal to Mexico.

 

The overall bribery scheme primarily involved obtaining De La Cruz Reyna’s unannounced removal to Mexico and release to elements of the Gulf Cartel and to avoid official notification and transfer to the appropriate Mexican federal law enforcement authorities. However, the bribery scheme also involved allowing individuals to visit him in the Atlanta prison while there.

 

After De La Cruz Reyna was transferred to the Rio Grande Valley in preparation for his supposed release to elements of the Gulf Cartel, several of the conspirators, including De La Cruz Reyna and Nunez Venegas, met with the agent and discussed the final bribe payment. At that time, the officer was wearing his official credentials clearly indicating he was a federal law enforcement official. On March 13, 2012, Nunez Venegas, Trejo Venegas and Montes-Martinez met with the undercover officer and made the final payment.

 

On the night of March 14, 2012, the six men met with the agent to discuss the final arrangements and each person’s role in the operation, at which time they were all arrested. De La Cruz Reyna was also arrested on that date.

 

De La Cruz Reyna and the others will remain in federal custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

 

The case was investigated by HSI, FBI, and the Brownsville Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jody Young and Angel Castro.

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