141 F.3d 142 (5th Cir. 1998), 97-20130, United States v. Garcia Abrego

Docket Nº:97-20130.
Citation:141 F.3d 142
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Juan GARCIA ABREGO, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 06, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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141 F.3d 142 (5th Cir. 1998)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Juan GARCIA ABREGO, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 97-20130.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 6, 1998

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Kathlyn Giannaula Snyder, Paula Camille Offenhauser, Asst. U.S. Atty., Houston, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Gerald H. Goldstein, Cynthia Eva Hujar Orr, Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley, San Antonio, TX, for Defendant-Appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before KING, EMILIO M. GARZA and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.

KING, Circuit Judge:

Defendant-appellant Juan Garcia Abrego appeals his conviction and sentence for ten counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A), five counts of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i), three counts of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A), one count of conspiracy to launder money in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), and one count of conducting a continuing criminal enterprise in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

For approximately two decades, Juan Garcia Abrego was the hub of a narcotics smuggling syndicate of staggering dimension. Headquartered in Matamoros, Mexico, Garcia Abrego's organization was responsible for smuggling tremendous quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the United States from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s.

Garcia Abrego began trafficking large quantities of marijuana in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Carlos Resendez, a long time friend of Garcia Abrego, delivered approximately 300 kilograms of marijuana to him. Francisco "Paco" Perez also began working for Garcia Abrego in the drug trafficking trade around 1980. At Garcia Abrego's direction, Perez unloaded marijuana flown in on a small plane by Oscar "El Profe" Lopez Olivares, stored it in a warehouse on Garcia Abrego's ranch in

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Soliceno, Mexico, and smuggled it across the border into the United States in inner tubes.

In the early 1980s, Garcia Abrego expanded his operation. According to some members of his organization, in 1985, Garcia Abrego ordered the murder of Casimiro "Cacho" Espinoza, another drug trafficker in Mexico, in order to eliminate competition. Thereafter, Luis Medrano, who had previously worked for Espinoza, went to work for Garcia Abrego.

In 1986, Garcia Abrego began trafficking cocaine because marijuana was a seasonal business. Luis Medrano and Oscar Malherbe worked as managers and supervisors one step below Garcia Abrego in the chain of command in his organization. Medrano and Malherbe enlisted the services of a number of other individuals, including Jaime Rivas Gonzales, Tony Ortiz, Tomas "Gringo" Sanchez, and Juan Ibarra, to transport cocaine into the United States and the rich proceeds from its sale back into Mexico. These individuals in turn utilized the services of numerous other individuals to package and deliver the cocaine and to collect and deliver the money.

Garcia Abrego used money from his drug operation to purchase large ranches in Soto La Marina, an area south of Matamoros. Malherbe and Medrano arranged for loads of cocaine to be flown to these ranches, and from there, the cocaine was moved to Matamoros. The cocaine was smuggled across the border and stockpiled in the Brownsville, Texas area. From there, members of Garcia Abrego's organization arranged the shipment of the cocaine to Houston. From Houston, the drugs were distributed locally and nationally, principally to New York and Los Angeles. Garcia Abrego's organization utilized vehicles with hidden compartments to transport cocaine and proceeds from its sale inside the United States. Until 1990, the organization also utilized INS buses to smuggle narcotics into the United States.

Garcia Abrego's organization trafficked a huge amount of narcotics. Between 1989 and 1993, U.S. law enforcement officials seized over thirteen tons of the organization's cocaine, but this was but a fraction of the amount that the organization successfully smuggled into the United States. Jaime Rivas Gonzales testified that he moved between thirty-three and forty tons of cocaine for the organization, and Carlos Rodriguez testified that he moved over fifty tons. Tony Ortiz testified that he moved 10,000 kilograms of cocaine for the organization.

Garcia Abrego's organization derived substantial profits from its drug trafficking activities. Members of the organization sold cocaine in Houston for between $17,000 and $23,000 per kilogram and in Los Angeles and New York for between $23,000 and $25,000 per kilogram. Tony Ortiz testified that he collected $60 to 70 million on behalf of the organization in New York and Houston and shipped it back to Matamoros.

In addition to trafficking narcotics, Garcia Abrego's business also included providing "protection" to other drug traffickers moving narcotics through the Matamoros area. In the mid-1980s, Carlos Resendez, who had begun working for Garcia Abrego full time, set up a meeting between Garcia Abrego and Fernando "El Aguacate" Martinez, another drug trafficker who sought permission from Garcia Abrego to move cocaine through the Matamoros area. Garcia Abrego agreed to allow him to do so in exchange for $200,000 for each airplane load brought through the area.

According to some members of his group, when Garcia Abrego got word that Martinez had landed planes without paying the $200,000 fee, he became angry and had his men capture a member of Martinez's organization and beat information out of him regarding the rival organization, including the number and weights of loads of cocaine that the organization transported. In hopes that law enforcement authorities could eliminate his competition for him and save him the trouble of doing it himself, Garcia Abrego turned this information over to FBI Agent Claudio DeLaO, who was masquerading as a corrupt agent in an attempt to effect Garcia Abrego's arrest. Insofar as more direct efforts are concerned, DeLaO asked Garcia Abrego in a subsequent telephone conversation what had happened to the member of Martinez's group from whom he had acquired information.

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Garcia Abrego responded, "We left him at the Rio Bravo more or less," a comment which DeLaO took to mean that Garcia Abrego had killed him. Garcia Abrego also stated that another member of Martinez's group from whom he had acquired information "already went to heaven." Garcia Abrego then indicated that he had gathered his men to take care of Martinez personally, but that, before they could do so, Mexican federal police arrested Martinez. Thereafter, Garcia Abrego began demanding forty to fifty percent of Colombian traffickers' loads in exchange for the privilege of moving narcotics through the Matamoros area.

Carlos Rodriguez, Sergio "Checo" Gomez, and Jesus "Chuy" Espinoza also paid Garcia Abrego's organization for the privilege of trafficking cocaine through Matamoros. Rodriguez and his cohorts received their cocaine from the Medellin Cartel. However, Medrano and Malherbe subsequently informed Rodriguez that he and his comrades were being absorbed into Garcia Abrego's organization and that they could no longer purchase cocaine from the Medellin Cartel because their organization worked exclusively with the Cali Cartel.

The hierarchy of Garcia Abrego's organization was firmly established. If a member of the group overstepped his authority, the consequences were dire. In 1991, Tomas "Gringo" Sanchez, a principal player in the New York segment of Garcia Abrego's distribution network, ordered the killing of a Colombian drug trafficker in a Matamoros jail without authorization from Garcia Abrego. As a result of the killing, a riot broke out in the jail, killing two members of Garcia Abrego's organization. Garcia Abrego was upset by Sanchez's acting without authority because of the intense media attention that the riot caused. He had also concluded that Sanchez had gotten out of hand and lost a great deal of money for his organization. Thereafter, Luis Medrano ordered Sanchez killed.

Garcia Abrego protected his business from interference from law enforcement by paying large bribes to Mexican law enforcement officials. Specifically, he ordered individuals in his organization to pay Lopez Parra, a commander in La Procuraduria General de la Republica (the PGR), Luis Esteban Villalon, who was in charge of the federal police for northern Mexico, and Coello Trejo, the Deputy General for the PGR $1.5 million per month. Garcia Abrego also had Francisco Perez purchase clothing for employees of Trejo on a number of occasions. On each occasion, Perez spent from $50,000 to $80,000.

Garcia Abrego also protected his organization by attempting to maintain a low profile. At one point, he informed Perez that he intended to kill two Mexican reporters because they were writing "[t]oo many personal things in the newspaper" about his narcotics trafficking business. When Oscar "El Profe" Lopez Olivares, formerly a valued member of Garcia Abrego's organization, made statements to the press threatening to expose a high-level narcotics operation in Matamoros along with its organizer, Garcia Abrego attempted to have him killed and, through Luis Medrano, enlisted the assistance of Agent DeLaO in this regard.

Lopez Olivares's statements to the press created pressure from law enforcement for Garcia Abrego. He alleviated this pressure through further bribes to government officials. He also moved to Monterey, a city deeper inside Mexico than Matamoros, and essentially went...

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