Zetas Smuggling Arms and Immigrants Busted in Laredo, Texas

Danny Benavides
Traces of Reality
January 11, 2013


Nicolas Sanchez Reyes (left) and Pablo Cerda (right)

Nicolas Sanchez Reyes (left) and Pablo Cerda (right)

Two groups of Zetas cartel members are facing prison sentences after entering guilty pleas on charges brought by federal officials.  San Antonio Express-News reports on one cell uncovered by a DEA investigation which revealed weapons-smuggling and kidnapping:

A Laredo gun smuggler, who police say ran a cell of the Zetas drug cartel, admitted Thursday to working with the same arms traffickers who provided the gang with a machine gun used in the killing of a U.S. agent.

In November 2010, Nicolas Sanchez Reyes, 50, tried to smuggle 40 weapons into Mexico. But the guns, mostly rifles and machine pistols, were seized near the border.

Prosecutors said the guns came from the Dallas-area weapons buyers who earlier that year had purchased a Draco AK-47 pistol used in the killing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata.

Sanchez, who “oversaw the Zetas muscle in Laredo,” has pleaded not guilty on three counts of capital murder — Hits that state prosecutors allege were ordered by Zetas bosses and involved three members of the Hermandad Pistoleros Latinos prison gang.

DEA agents who had been tapping the phones of Zetas members had learned of an order sent to the Laredo-based group to find the thief of more than $1 million had gone unaccounted for.

The article brings up the involvement of a former USMC soldier as it continues:

The wiretaps also led investigators back north. Federal agents traced Sanchez’s weapons smuggling to the Zetas’ Dallas-based suppliers, Otilio Osorio and his brother Ranferi, a former U.S. Marine. One month earlier, Otilio Osorio had purchased the machine pistol used in the attack on [ICE Agent Jaime] Zapata, according to court documents. Both brothers are serving time in federal prison.

Zapata’s family, in a lawsuit against the federal government, has given a different version of events.

They alleged that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents engaged in a “gun-walking” investigation, in which firearms were allowed to enter Mexico in order to uncover their buyers. Zapata’s family drew comparisons to Fast and Furious, a disastrous investigation by the ATF in Arizona that allowed gunmen to get their hands on a weapon that was used during a shootout that killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in 2010.

An affiliated group of Zetas members pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges related to Sanchez.  The El Paso Times has a brief piece:

The U.S. Attorney’s office says 36-year-old Pablo Cerda, 29-year-old Ernesto Zaragosa-Solis and 31-year-old Efrain Garza kidnapped a Laredo woman whose stepson had allegedly stolen more than $1 million from the Zetas. She was taken from her home at gunpoint, bound and blindfolded. Grace Diaz-Martinez pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the kidnapping.

A separate coterie of Zetas members are looking at prison time as well.  San Antonio Express-News has this story in addition to the prior:

A San Antonio woman who led a cell that smuggled up to 200 unauthorized immigrants a month for the Zetas cartel pleaded guilty Thursday, along with her brother and an associate.

The cell leader, April Gaitan, 26, Armando Gaitan, 29, and Sonia Campos-Delgado, 34, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for their role in the ring that smuggled loads of immigrants from Mexico and Central America through Nuevo Laredo and Villa Hidalgo, Mexico.

Homeland security officials dismantled the ring of at least 28 smugglers in September. The officials said the ring charged the immigrants $2,500 each — part of the hefty “tax” imposed by the Zetas — and hid them in houses and motels, first along the border and then in staging houses in San Antonio, Austin and in rural locations.

Court records said April Gaitan was in regular phone contact with ringleader Fernando Martinez-Magana, 40, about the smuggling activities. He’s a fugitive, also known as “Zeta 16,” “Dieciséis” and “Don Fernando” — a member of the Zetas cartel.

Homeland security officials said he “controls all alien smuggling” in Nuevo Laredo.

After this series of guilty pleas, one may be scratching their head wondering, where are all the Sinaloa busts?