BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS — A federal Grand Jury sitting in Brownsville, Texas has indicted Rafael Cardenas Vela for participating in drug and money laundering conspiracies and for procuring fraudulent Visa documents, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today along with Jerry Robinette, special-agent-in-charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) and Thomas E. Hinojosa, acting special-agent-in-charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Cardenas Vela, 38, is the nephew of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, convicted of federal drug charges by the Southern District of Texas in 2010, and Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas Guillen.
Information contained in the indictment, returned less than an hour ago, alleges that Cardenas Vela - aka Junior, Commandante 900 and Rolex - occupied a position as a principal leader of a criminal enterprise. The criminal enterprise, known as the Gulf Cartel, was headquartered in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and allegedly imports, warehouses, transports and distributes ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana from the Mexico into the United States.
“ICE-HSI agents have made it a top priority to bring stability and security to this border region” said Robinette. “Holding those responsible and accountable for these crimes is the first step.”
Cardenas-Vela, a native of Mexico, was arrested on Oct. 20, 2011, in Port Isabel, Texas. He made his initial appearance the following day, at which time he was ordered held without bond pending further criminal proceedings.
“The arrest of Rafael Cardenas Vela highlights the tremendous work our agents do throughout the Houston Division,” said Hinojosa. “DEA agents, along with our law enforcement counterparts, are committed to protecting the citizens along the southwest border by ridding their neighborhoods of drugs and drug traffickers alike.”
According to the indictment, Cardenas Vela, along with Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez - aka El Cos - and other unindicted co-conspirators, helped manage and maintain cocaine and marijuana transportation and distribution cells established in the United States that acted as smaller operational units within the larger organization. Cells were allegedly located in various cities including but not limited to Houston, Brownsville and McAllen, Texas, as well as in northern cities throughout the United States.
The Gulf Cartel, as led in part by Cardenas Vela, also collected and transported millions of dollars in United States currency which represented the proceeds from the distribution and sale of cocaine and marijuana in the United States according to allegations. Once the drug proceeds were collected at various points within the United States, the money would be transported to Mexico to further the aims of this criminal enterprise.
In an effort to conceal their illegal activities, this organization allegedly utilized vehicles which had hidden compartments to conceal the cocaine, marijuana and currency which was being transported. The members of the criminal enterprise encoded their written and oral drug related and conspiratorial communications to further shield themselves from law enforcement detection. The indictment also alleges that members of this criminal enterprise would use aliases and call signs during their communications to protect their identities from law enforcement agencies. In order to further the aims and goals of this criminal enterprise, the aid of law enforcement authorities was solicited to provide information and protection for the organization’s criminal activities. Specifically, Cardenas Vela directed the payments of money and/or gifts to various individuals related to law enforcement in Mexico.
In addition, firearms were often utilized as a tool during the drug trafficking activities of this organization the indictment indicates. Bullet proof vehicles, automatic weapons, grenades, homemade cannons and body armor were allegedly purchased by Cardenas Vela and members of the Gulf Cartel to further their conspiracy to possess narcotics in Mexico and to import these narcotics into the United States. These weapons were allegedly used by members of the Gulf Cartel, at the direction of Cardenas Vela and other leaders, in their continuing struggle for control of the Mexican drug corridor with their rivals, Los Zetas. Body guards were routinely employed to protect various members of this organization, including but not limited to Cardenas Vela.
Beginning in approximately 2000, the indictment alleges Cardenas Vela served as the “Plaza Boss” for the Gulf Cartel of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and became the “Plaza Boss” of the Rio Bravo area of Tamaulipas, Mexico, approximately two years ago. (A “Plaza Boss” is the leader of a geographic area for the Gulf Cartel.) After the death of his uncle, “Tony Tormenta” in November 2010, Cardenas Vela allegedly became engaged in an internal power struggle for control of the Matamoros plaza with an unindicted co-conspirator. In approximately March 2011, Cardenas Vela assumed control of the Matamoros plaza.
He is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver and conspiracy to import more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. For each of these two charges, he faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years up to life in prison, a fine of up to $10 million and up to five years of supervised release. Upon conviction of conspiracy to launder money, Cardenas Vela faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of a maximum $500,000 or twice the amount of the money instruments or funds involved in the conspiracy, as well as a period of supervised release of up to five years. Also charged with procuring a fraudulent Mexican passport and United States Visa, he faces as additional 20 years, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release if convicted.
The case was investigated by the DEA, ICE-HSI, FBI and the Port Isabel Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jody Young and Angel Castro.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.