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DEA agent links defendants in drug trial to high-level cartel leaders

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DEA agent links defendants in drug trial to high-level cartel leaders

Mensaje por Exocet el Marzo 6th 2010, 16:25

By Diana Washington Valdez / El Paso Times
Posted: 03/04/2010 12:00:00 AM MST
EL PASO -- A DEA agent testified Wednesday that telephones seized as evidence in a major drug trial linked many suspects to high-level Mexican drug leaders affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel.

The agent and other witnesses in the trial of Fernando Ontiveros-Arambula and Manuel Chávez-Betancourt also revealed the new hierarchies of organized crime in Chihuahua state since the drug wars began two years ago.

For example, witnesses said Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán's Sinaloa drug cartel toppled Vicente Carrillo Fuentes' drug-cartel leaders in the Valle de Juárez -- a corridor across the border from Fabens, Fort Hancock and Tornillo.

Witnesses said Gabino "Ingeniero" Salas-Valencio is in charge of the Valle de Juárez smuggling route for Guzmán, and José Antonio Torres-Marrufo is his new top man in Juárez.

Noel Salguero, who is wanted by the DEA, is a high-level leader of La Gente Nueva (the new people). U.S. drug investigators have said La Gente Nueva is an emerging group that has made incursions into drug-trafficking in Juárez.

Contacts on telephones seized from Ontiveros-Arambula and his associates included those of operatives who adopted feline animals for nicknames -- "puma," "pantera" (panther) and "jaguar."

The DEA agent said "pantera" is the nickname of a Mexican military official who provided the Sinaloa cartel with intelligence about rival drug dealers.

Another contact was for a man who directed the Sinaloa cartel's operations in Juárez out of Panama.

Prosecutors are trying to prove the accused men belonged to a vast drug-smuggling network tied to the Sinaloa cartel that was much bigger and powerful than a typical drug cell.

Government witnesses have alleged that Ontiveros-Arambula worked directly under Guzmán, the Mexican kingpin who is battling for control of the Juárez smuggling corridor. U.S. officials have indicted Guzmán and Carrillo on drug-smuggling charges, but they remain at large.

On Wednesday, a man who raised cockfighting roosters testified that he helped drug smugglers transport marijuana loads to various U.S. cities.

Paul Quaintance, the witness, was one of the latest people to testify in the federal trial.

Quaintance said he first met drug dealers from the Juárez-El Paso region at cockfights in New Mexico before the state banned cockfighting.

He said about half of the people who went to cockfights were involved in drug trafficking.

The smugglers he worked with included several witnesses who have testified in the trial in U.S. District Judge David Briones' court.

Quaintance said he stored marijuana from Juárez at his barn in New Mexico, and arranged to transport it to cities in the United States.

He said he netted about $360,000 during the time he worked with the smugglers. But he stopped his drug activities after he discovered a surveillance camera across from his ranch house.

Among the smugglers Quaintance said he met was a woman nicknamed "Liz," who had been shot at in Juárez at least 15 times.

"She showed me the scars, and she still had some bandages on," Quaintance said.

The woman is Elizabeth Lares-Valenzuela, who was attacked by an armed commando in 2008 in Juárez. Back then, Mexican police said they recovered 19 bullet casings from the shooting.

Last year, Lares-Valenzuela was indicted on U.S. federal drug charges in connection with the U.S. investigation involving Ontiveros-Arambula.

So far during the trial, agents and other witnesses testified that many others formed part of the network, including Antonio "Black Diamond Tony" Contreras, Oscar Ronquillo, Jesús Omar "Arabe" Acosta-Chávez and Jesús "Puma" Fierro Mendez.

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