BROWNSVILLE, TX — Julio Cesar Cardenas, 40, has been given four life sentences in federal prison for his involvement in leading a drug trafficking organization for several years out of Brownsville, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Cardenas was convicted by a federal jury following a two-week trial on May 31, 2013.
Senior U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle, who presided over the trial, handed down the sentence, noting her concern for the safety of the community due in part to his extensive criminal history. At the hearing, it was noted that this was the sixth felony conviction for Cardenas. He was further ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,700. Cardenas was sentenced on a total of 17 counts in two indictments and given other sentences ranging from five to 40 years to run concurrent with the life sentences. The life sentences imposed were for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute approximately 31 kilograms of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute approximately 20 kilograms of cocaine.
Cardenas was convicted at trial on all 17 counts in which he was charged in the two indictments, including the aforementioned charges as well as operating an illegal money remitting business and numerous substantive marijuana and cocaine counts. He was also convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Cardenas was one of 13 people originally charged in an indictment returned in June 2012. According to the evidence and testimony presented in court, Cardenas led the drug trafficking organization whose aim was to distribute cocaine and marijuana through commercial freight lines to numerous states, including Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Mississippi, South Carolina, Indiana and Illinois. After the marijuana and cocaine was sold in these states, Cardenas directed the illegal money remitting of the transportation costs and drug proceeds of the narcotics back to the Brownsville area by utilizing cash deposits in bank accounts in the names of other individuals and co-conspirators. Branch banks were utilized in the receiving states with the money to be withdrawn by the co-conspirators here in Brownsville on a regular basis.
Testimony at trial demonstrated that Cardenas engaged in numerous drug trafficking and illegal money remitting conversations in March, April and June 2011. The investigation led law enforcement to four separate seizures of large amounts of marijuana during these months. Cardenas was also convicted of several other historical seizures of cocaine and marijuana.
Cardenas was arrested Sept. 13, 2012, at which time a weapon was found at his home. Evidence at trial established that within minutes of approximately 365 pounds of marijuana being seized at the house of co-conspirator, he had commented about the need to get a gun out of his house. Cardenas was convicted in three separate cases of delivery of cocaine in 1995 and is, therefore, prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm.
The jury also heard that Cardenas had ties to the Gulf Cartel. Evidence established that Cardenas assisted in the possession of approximately 31 kilograms of cocaine in April 2011 that was supplied to a co-conspirator by an individual named “La Tia” from Matamoros. “La Tia” was identified by several cooperating witnesses as an alleged high ranking member of the Gulf Cartel.
Cardenas offered to help store and sell three kilograms of the total load of 31 kilograms. He also provided advice to the co-conspirator on how to deal with “La Tia” during the transportation of the cocaine to Chicago, Ill. The jury heard that Cardenas advised the co-conspirator to employ violence, such as kidnaping and the use of a bomb, in their dispute with “La Tia” regarding the seizure of the 31 kilograms of cocaine by the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office.
Law enforcement has identified “La Tia” as Idalia Ramos Rangel, 58. She is a fugitive and has been charged by the United States Attorney’s Offices in Brownsville and Little Rock, Ark., on separate narcotics trafficking indictments. She is considered innocent until proven guilty through due process of law.
The government also presented evidence that Cardenas received bank deposits in the names of co-conspirators in excess of $841,000. Cardenas was the leader of the co-conspirators in the indictment and, on one occasion, wanted to steal electricity from a neighboring church to power one of the warehouses he was using to ship and package narcotics.
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service, Cameron Country Sheriff’s Office, Police Departments in Brownsville and Harlingen as well as the Hidalgo and Cameron County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Forces and the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office.
Cardenas will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
The 11 remaining defendants all pleaded guilty on various dates prior to the Cardenas trial. Emmanuel Leal Mancha, 36, was sentenced to 46 months for illegal money remitting and possession with intent to distribute approximately 82 kilograms of marijuana. Juan Gonzalez, 39, Pablo Torres, 22, and Ronny Robertson, 22, received respective sentences of 60, 37, and 24 months for possession with intent to distribute approximately 166 kilograms of marijuana. For his two convictions of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, Byron Green, 33, was handed a 125-month sentence, while Guadalupe Vidaurri, 34, received 48 months for possession with intent to distribute approximately 194 kilograms of marijuana. Alejandro Trevino, 38, received credit for time served for illegal money remitting. Israel Avila was sentenced yesterday to 40 months, while four others - Juan Torres, Pablo Rodriguez and Carlos Lopez - are set for sentencing next year.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jody Young and Angel Castro as part of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force Operation “Hips Don’t Lie.”