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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

ICE strikes with raids

The Brownsville Herald
March 2, 2011

An early morning raid led to the arrest Wednesday of several Brownsville residents accused of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Arturo Gomez, 31, Magda Zendejas, 28, Reyna Ceballos, 21, Julio Gonzalez, 45, David Alcala, 30, Vanessa Weaver, 28, and Sonia Garcia-Medina, 26, were arrested in a federal investigation dubbed “Operation Stained Glass,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office reported.

During Wednesday’s arrest, federal authorities seized $524,000 in cash and 2 kilograms or 5 pounds of cocaine at a residence located at the 500 block of Salvatierra in the vicinity of the Brownsville Country Club.

The group will appear this morning before U.S. Magistrate Felix Recio on the charges. The United States will request that they remain held without bail pending further investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reported.

The residents are named in a four-count federal indictment that was unsealed Wednesday. It charges Gomez, Zendejas, Ceballos, Gonzalez and Alcala with conspiring over a two-year period to possess and distribute more than 5 kilograms or more than 10 pounds of cocaine.

Gomez is also charged with a count of money laundering and another count of attempting to smuggle $47,205 in cash. It alleges Gomez was trying to transfer the money to Mexico.

According the indictment, the government intends to seek a money judgment against Gomez for $1 million, which is the amount of money that was allegedly laundered.

Weaver is also charged with a count of attempting to smuggle $16,530 in cash possibly to Mexico as well.

Garcia-Medina is charged with a separate criminal complaint with being illegally in the United States after being deported.

Nina Pruneda, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to say whether Wednesday’s arrest was related to the ongoing investigation of the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Jorge Zapata, referring comments to ICE Director John Morton.

Zapata, 32, a native of Brownsville who worked for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was killed last month in Mexico in an attack by members of the Zetas criminal organization while traveling along Highway 57 in the San Luis Potosí state, according to U.S. officials. A fellow agent, Victor Avila, was wounded in the attack.

Pruneda said the FBI is the lead agency in the Zapata killing and that ICE, as Morton said, would continue to work with its law enforcement partners in Mexico for a quick resolution of the investigation.

“I can’t speak to what’s going on in the South Texas area as being anything connected to that," she said of the Zapata investigation and Wednesday’s arrests. "I think that would be irresponsible of me to comment on something like that.”

Wednesday’s arrests occurred in at least six different locations in the Brownsville area both within and outside the city limits.

The Brownsville Police Department assisted, she said, along with other law enforcement agencies. Police spokesman Eddie Garcia said K-9 units from the department were present and that he had no other details to give.

"It started off as a federal search warrant based on an ongoing investigation that we have that is connected to money laundering and narcotics smuggling," Pruneda said, noting that the investigations supported the agency’s public safety mission.

The arrests were conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service.

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