BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon, a high-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel, has been convicted on all counts as charged in a large drug trafficking conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced on Monday.
The jury returned its verdict just a short time ago after seven days of trial and less than two hours of deliberation.
Rincon, 41, from Matamoros, Mexico, was convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute as well as conspiracy to import into the United States more than five kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from January 2002 until his capture on October 26, 2011.
Evidence at trial proved that more than 5,000 kilograms of marijuana was seized in representative seizures by Border Patrol during the months of September and October 2011, when Rincon-Rincon was proven to be the Plaza Boss of Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. During his time in that leadership role, the money derived from the Gulf Cartel was more than $20 million. As the plaza boss, which is the lead representative for the Gulf Cartel in a particular region or town, Rincon-Rincon, aka Primo or X-5, was in charge of maintaining control to ensure safe passage of the Cartel’s narcotics and ensuring no narcotics pass through his area of responsibility without his approval or knowledge.
For more than a decade, Rincon-Rincon was a close associate of Jorge Eduardo Costilla, aka El Coss, who has been the head of the Gulf Cartel drug trafficking organization since the capture of Osiel Cardenas-Guillen in March 2003. Costilla, also charged in this district, was arrested by Mexican authorities two weeks ago. He is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.
Rafael Cardenas-Vela, Jr. and others provided testimony that beginning in approximately 2000, Rincon-Rincon began working his way up the ranks of the Gulf Cartel through his association with Costilla. At that time, Rincon-Rincon worked as a municipal police officer in Matamoros and assisted the Gulf Cartel in their drug trafficking activities as a police officer and also by selling narcotics and collecting a piso at local drug houses in Matamoros.
The jury heard testimony that Rincon-Rincon later served as an intermediary regarding drug negotiations. Several others, including Cardenas-Vela, have told law enforcement that they would have to often go through Rincon-Rincon to relay information, to receive authorization to transport drugs, to make bribe payments, and to negotiate drug terms. Rincon-Rincon would also receive large amounts of bulk cash currency that were proceeds from the sale of large amounts of Gulf Cartel narcotics.
Cardenas-Vela, the nephew of Cardenas-Guillen and Ezequiel Antonio Cardenas-Guillen, aka Tony Tormenta, pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge earlier this year and provided detailed testimony as to the activities of the Cartel, its internal power struggles, his association with Rincon-Rincon and his illegal activities.
While Plaza Boss in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico, Cardenas-Vela and the Gulf Cartel utilized landing strips in rural areas of San Fernando to circumvent Mexican military checkpoints and allow small airplanes to transport cocaine for eventual importation into the United States.
Elements of the Gulf Cartel, including Rincon-Rincon, would receive the cocaine loads at warehouses set up by Cardenas-Vela. Rincon-Rincon’s involvement in these loads lasted for the duration of Cardenas-Vela’s control of San Fernando and the amount of cocaine transported was well in excess of 150 kilograms. In fact, Cardenas testified that each cocaine load that came from the San Fernando landing strips contained 500 kilograms of cocaine the majority of which was destined for importation into the United States.
Cardenas further testified that the 500 kilogram cocaine shipments happened on a monthly basis while he was in charge of San Fernando between 2004 and 2009.
During his association with the Cartel, Rincon-Rincon was also in charge of a “Polla,” which involves the collection of money for the purchase of cocaine and its distribution to those who contributed to it. Several co-defendants testified that Rincon-Rincon would collect between $500 and $600 thousand from Gulf Cartel conspirators and then return with 120 to 150 kilograms of cocaine, which would then be imported into the U.S. by Gulf Cartel associates.
An internal power struggle later developed between Cardenas-Vela and those loyal to Costilla, including Rincon-Rincon, which eventually led to a fire fight on October 25, 2011, at which time another plaza boss was killed. As a result, Rincon-Rincon and others fled into the United States and were captured by law enforcement on October 26, 2011.
U.S. District Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who presided over the trial, has set sentencing for January 7, 2013, at which time he faces no less than 10 years and up to life in prison as well as a $10 million fine. He will remain in custody pending that hearing.
The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Border Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety, Cameron County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Brownsville and Progreso. Assistant United States Attorneys Angel Castro and Jody L. Young prosecuted the case.