'It's in Houston': 41 charged in drug trafficking ring linked to Mexican cartel, US officials say

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Monday, April 1, 2024
41 charged in drug trafficking ring linked to cartel, officials say
Roque Zamudio-Mendoza is still on the run after U.S. officials announced 41 people were charged in a drug trafficking ring linked to a Mexican cartel.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Up to 50 indictments surrounding a drug trafficking ring in Houston and Galveston are linked to a major Mexican cartel, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

On Monday, authorities announced 41 people have been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and meth.

The indictment alleges that all 41 suspects operated under the control of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

"The Jalisco New Generation Cartel casts a dark shadow that extends far beyond the borders of a single nation and into the streets and communities like Houston and beyond," U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani said.

Investigators said the suspects are accused of running the major operation out of the Houston area from Dec. 28, 2018, to April 22, 2020.

Although dozens were charged and 23 were taken into custody, federal agents and the Houston Police Department are still hunting for 16 suspects, including the alleged ring leader, 52-year-old Roque Zamudio-Mendoza.

"Some of (the fugitives) are from Houston," Hamdani said during Monday's press conference. "The JNGC is not just confined to Michoacana or Jalisco. It's in Houston. Its folks are in Houston. Its folks are in other parts of the country. That is the big message we want to send: The Jalisco New Generation Cartel is not just a far-off entity. They're in the streets of Houston. They're in our communities."

The wanted men named in the indictment with ties to Houston include Antolin Ramirez-Ramirez, Juan Moreno-Lopez, Angel Garcia-Saldivar, Luis Avalos-Alcantar, and Jorge Valdovinos-Hernandez. All of them face up to life in prison and millions in fines for drugs and or money laundering.

Authorities said Zamudio-Mendoza was the main source of drugs being smuggled into the United States, where co-conspirators allegedly distributed the narcotics to New Orleans, Louisiana; Pensacola, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois.

Hamdani said 20 people were arrested, joining three suspects who were already in custody.

Hamdani noted that two suspects in custody have since died.

"A message to any cartel or any organized criminal activity: 'We stand strong here, and we continue to stand strong,'"HPD Chief Troy Finner said, as he applauded the several agencies involved in the five-year operation.

The indictment, returned Dec. 14, 2023, also seeks forfeiture of any illegal proceeds of the alleged crimes, estimated at $10 million.

Hamdani said as of Monday, authorities seized about 550 kilograms of meth, 249 kilograms of cocaine, 34 kilograms of heroin, five kilograms of pentobarbital, and 22,600 fentanyl-laced pills.

"Have you heard the term 'one pill can kill' when it comes to fentanyl? (That's) 22,600 deadly pills," Hamandi said.

During the arrests, authorities said nine firearms, several Rolex watches, and large amounts of U.S. currency, including $190,000, were seized during a traffic stop in Porter.

Some of the suspects are set to appear in federal court on April 2 at 10 a.m. in Galveston or Houston on April 3 at either 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the arrests are the culmination of a 63-month Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces investigation (OCDETF) dubbed Operation Rainmaker that began in 2019.

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Twenty-three people were taken into custody after the return of a 50-count indictment alleging cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and meth trafficking and related crimes in the Houston and Galveston areas, U.S. officials said.