Gulf Cartel Figure and Others Convicted in Bribery Scheme
|U.S. Attorney’s Office April 23, 2012|
BROWNSVILLE, TX—Juan Carlos De La Cruz Reyna, 37, has entered a plea of guilty to bribery of a public official, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Also entering guilty pleas today were Adalberto Nunez Venegas, 39; Juan Trejo Venegas, 33; and Jose Cruz Venegas Esquivel, 36.
The charges were filed as De La Cruz Reyna was set to be released from federal prison after serving 30 months for a previous conviction related to an assault against federal agents in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico in November 1999. Those assaults were conducted at the direction of Osiel Cardenas Guillen—then leader of the Gulf Cartel.
After completion of that sentence, De La Cruz Reyna would normally have been returned to Mexican authorities at either a port of entry along the U.S.-Mexican border or flown to the interior of Mexico as he had no status in the U.S. However, fearing possible prosecution by Mexican authorities or being taken into custody by a rival drug cartel, De La Cruz Reyna admitted today he bribed a federal official in an attempt to ensure safe passage to Mexico. Through the co-conspirators, De La Cruz Reyna made a total of $797,000 in bribe payments over the course of the scheme.
In early-mid 2011, Nunez Venegas and another co-conspirator allegedly began negotiations with an undercover Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security investigations (ICE-HSI) agent whom they thought was a corrupt official that could help ensure safe passage for De La Cruz Reyna. According to documents in support of the plea today, at his direction, De La Cruz Reyna’s co-conspirators met the undercover officer on numerous occasions from May 2011 to March 2012 and made several bribe payments. During this period, De La Cruz Reyna admitted he spoke with the agent from prison on numerous occasions about bribery payments and to negotiate his release and with another agent in Atlanta, Georgia, on two occasions to discuss his covert removal to Mexico.
The overall bribery scheme primarily involved obtaining De La Cruz Reyna’s unannounced removal to Mexico and release to elements of the Gulf Cartel and to avoid official notification and transfer to the appropriate Mexican federal law enforcement authorities. However, the bribery scheme also involved allowing individuals to visit him in the Atlanta prison while there.
After De La Cruz Reyna was transferred to the Rio Grande Valley in preparation for his supposed release to elements of the Gulf Cartel, several of the conspirators, including De La Cruz Reyna and Nunez Venegas, met with the agent and discussed the final bribe payment. At that time, the officer was wearing his official credentials, clearly indicating he was a federal law enforcement official. On March 13, 2012, Nunez Venegas, Trejo Venegas, and another alleged conspirator met with the undercover officer and made the final payment.
On the night of March 14, 2012, Nunez Venegas, Trejo Venegas, Venegas Esquivel, and other alleged conspirators met with the agent to discuss the final arrangements and each person’s role in the operation, at which time they were all arrested. De La Cruz Reyna was also arrested on that date.
The cases against others charged in relation to this conspiracy are still pending. The other individuals are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.
De La Cruz Reyna and those that pleaded guilty today will remain in federal custody pending their sentencing hearings, set for July 30, 2012, at which time they each face up to 15 years in prison, a possible $250,000 fine, and up to a three-year term of supervised release.
The case was investigated by ICE-HSI, the FBI, and the Brownsville Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jody Young and Angel Castro.