Leader in Drug Trafficking Conspiracy Related to Mexican La Familia Drug Trafficking Cartel Pleads Guilty
Defendant Charged in “Project Coronado”—Faces Life in Prison
|U.S. Attorney’s Office March 10, 2010|
DALLAS—Balmer Valencia-Bernabe, a/k/a “Viejote,” “Colorado,” and “Cherote,” 34, of Dallas, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney to one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine (ice), announced U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas. Valencia-Bernabe admitted that during the time of the conspiracy, he distributed more than 80 kilograms of methamphetamine (an approximate street value of more than $4 million). He faces a minimum statutory sentence of 10 years to life in prison and will be required to forfeit a residence in Garland, Texas. Sentencing is set for June 16, 2010, before U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade.
Valencia-Bernabe was arrested in October 2009 as part of the DEA-led “Project Coronado.” In that operation, approximately 84 members of methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking cells associated with Mexico’s La Familia cartel, based in the state of Michoacan, in southwestern Mexico, were arrested locally on charges outlined in 10 federal indictments and several complaints.
La Familia is one of the Mexican government’s highest priorities in its battle against drug trafficking organizations. In a highly publicized incident last summer, members of La Familia launched a series of attacks against Mexican federal police officers and military members following the arrests of some of the cartel’s high-level members, including Arnoldo Rueda-Medina, a.k.a. La Minsa and Miguel Angel Berraza-Villa, a.k.a. La Troca, resulting in the brutal murder of 16 federal police officers. Rueda-Medina and Berraza-Villa oversaw the shipments of cocaine and methamphetamine into the U.S. and coordinated the collection of drug proceeds in the U.S. for shipment to Mexico.
As part of Project Coronado, law enforcement officers executed numerous search warrants at various locations throughout North Texas that resulted in the seizure of more than 220 pounds of methamphetamine, 4.5 kilograms of cocaine, $660,000 in cash, 50 firearms, 53 vehicles, one boat, two all terrain vehicles, one camper, and two real properties. These seizures are in addition to more than 650 pounds of methamphetamine, 135 kilograms of cocaine, more than 100 firearms, more than $2.4 million in U.S. currency, and more than $1 million in other assets already seized from members and customers of these organizations throughout the investigation by law enforcement in the DFW area.
Since 2006, DEA has been investigating several methamphetamine trafficking organizations that routinely receive significant quantities of methamphetamine, as well as cocaine and marijuana, from supply sources in Michoacan. The organizations are all part of a network of methamphetamine distributors that receive large amounts of methamphetamine from, and in some instances work on behalf of, the La Familia cartel in Michoacan. Law enforcement learned that the drug shipments entered the U.S. primarily through southern Texas, with the DFW area serving as a critical distribution point for La Familia and a transshipment point for drug shipments to Georgia, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Mississippi and Chicago.
Valencia Bernabe admitted that beginning in 2006, several methamphetamine supply sources in Michoacan began importing multi-kilogram shipments of methamphetamine into the U.S. through border check points near Laredo, Texas. The couriers were hired by drug suppliers in Mexico and delivered the methamphetamine to co-conspirators that Bernabe employed in Dallas. Once the drugs arrived in Dallas, members of Bernabe’s drug trafficking organization, including co-defendants Jose Sanchez Lopez, a/k/a “Chema” and Juan Carlos Cardena Bernabe, a/k/a “Pelon” maintained custody and control of the drugs at stash locations throughout Dallas.
Valencia Bernabe admitted that he routinely used his cell phone to negotiate the distribution and sale of the methamphetamine to numerous customers and relied on Sanchez Lopez and Cardena Bernabe to deliver multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine and collect the proceeds. Once the drug proceeds were collected, Valencia Bernabe relied on other co-conspirators to secrete the money in gas tanks or hidden compartments in vehicles and transport the money to supply sources in Mexico. Customers included co-defendants Trinidad Delgado, Charly Pecina and Osvaldo Salas.
Federal, state and local agencies assisting DEA in Project Coronado in North Texas include: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; FBI; Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation; U.S. Secret Service; North Texas HIDTA, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Air National Guard; Police Departments from Abilene, Addison, Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Coppell, Dallas, Duncanville, Fort Worth, Garland, Grand Prairie, Irving, Keller, Lewisville, Mesquite, North Richland Hills, Richardson, Rockwall, Waxahachie and Weatherford, Texas; Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Department of Public Safety; Dallas County Constables; Rockwall County Special Crimes Unit; Sheriff’s Departments in Dallas, Ellis, Denton, Hill and Parker County, Texas; the Sheriff’s Department in Carter County, Oklahoma; and the Dallas and Tarrant County District Attorney’s Offices.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Calvert.