Skip to comments.[Texas:]A Zeta-Syndicate tale; Court records detail killings, kidnapping and maquinitas
Posted on 02/17/2008 2:15:31 PM PST by SwinneySwitch
Juan Manuel Marquez-Rodriguez was supposed to use a baggie of marijuana to lure Julio Adrian Serrano out of his home on Gallagher Avenue that cool December morning in 2006, as two other men lay in wait to kidnap him at gunpoint.But when Serrano went out to meet Marquez, he spotted Sergio "Pelon" Oslan Rivera jumping over a nearby fence. Serrano immediately turned around and ran back into his trailer.
Marquez, 27, pulled out a .40 caliber pistol and fired at Serrano, then 19. One bullet hit Serrano in the back, killing him on the spot, according to information Laredo police received from confidential informants.
Marquez and the others fled, leaving the body behind. It wasn't until Serrano's brother came by later that afternoon that the killing was discovered.When Marquez made it back to the house where he and other members of the Texas Syndicate prison gang had planned their kidnapping of Serrano, court records show, his boss was not happy.
Juan Campos had good reason to be upset. He had been contracted by the Gulf Cartel's Zetas to bring Serrano back to Mexico alive. Serrano, believed to be a member of the rival Sinaloa Cartel, had been hiding in Laredo from the Zetas, according to the court documents.
Campos, 28, had a meeting of nine Texas Syndicate members at the Cortez Street residence of Raul Javier Muñoz, 41, to discuss "un cameo (a job)" for the Zetas. Campos told the men that he had been given $500,000 by a high-ranking member of the Zetas to kidnap Serrano and bring him to the Zetas in Nuevo Laredo.
Marquez volunteered to help because he knew Serrano. Before the meeting broke up, the men recruited four other Syndicate associates, including Oslan Rivera, 25, and Juan Manuel "Whiskey" Nuñez Sanchez, 22.
Muñoz drove Campos, Nuñez Sanchez and another man to Serrano's residence in a blue Chevrolet pickup truck. Tomas "Tom Cat" Barrera and another man took a red Ford truck. Marquez rode in a Ford Explorer driven by Diego Pegueño Jr., 25. A fourth car, with only the driver inside, went along as a lookout. The men communicated with each other throughout the operation using Boost Mobile Push to Talk phones.
Before going to Serrano's home, the group passed by International Bridge II, the bridge Campos intended to use to take Serrano to Mexico, scouting for any signs of unusual police activity. The convoy drove by Serrano's house, then returned to Muñoz's home to regroup.
When the men left again, Barrera and his driver stayed behind. Nuñez Sanchez was carrying a revolver and Oslan Rivera was carrying a 9-mm semi-automatic pistol. Marquez had his .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Marquez was to lure Serrano outside, where Nuñez Sanchez and Oslan Rivera would kidnap him at gunpoint. They were supposed to force Serrano in the blue Chevy truck, which Campos would use to take him to Mexico.
It didn't work out that way. Back at Muñoz's house, he took Marquez's gun away, and told the men they would not be paid.
Barrera, Campos, Marquez, Muñoz, Oslan Rivera, Pegueño and Sanchez were all arrested in November and charged in connection with Serrano's attempted kidnapping and killing.
They were picked up when Laredo police conducted a large sweep of alleged syndicate associates. Documents and testimony in a civil matter involving one of the men accused of taking part in Serrano's killing have shed light on what police think happened the day Serrano was killed.
The most attention in court so far has centered around Barrera, who, a source with knowledge of the investigation said, is a high-ranking member of the Syndicate in Laredo and who was charged with murder, engaging in criminal activity and attempted aggravated kidnapping in connection to Serrano's death.
Barrera's attorneys in December filed a writ of habeas corpus claiming police did not have probable cause to arrest him and asking for the government to release the names and locations of confidential informants.
A judge ruled this month that police did not have probable cause to arrest Barrera on a murder charge, but that they did have probable cause to arrest him on an attempted aggravated kidnapping and engaging in criminal activity charge.
Assistant District Attorney Jesse Guillen has said that the judge's ruling does not prevent his office from seeking to indict Barrera on the murder charge. Prosecutors intend to pursue the murder charge, Guillen said.
Barrera's attorneys say that he was not involved in Serrano's killing.
Marquez testified against the wishes of his attorney at the Feb. 4 hearing in which the judge dismissed the murder charge, admitting that he was there when Serrano was killed and telling the judge that Barrera wasn't at the scene.
"The reason we asked for the hearing in the first place was because we wanted to send a message to the state that their evidence is weak, and, furthermore, the evidence tends to prove Mr. Barrera's innocence," said Oscar O. Peña, an attorney representing Barrera. "Sending the message early in the game puts us in a position to obtain a favorable outcome as soon as possible."
Serrano was targeted by Miguel "40" Treviño-Morales, who investigators believe is the Zetas' chief enforcer, and Ivan "El Taliban" Velasquez-Cabala, who investigators believe is the Zetas' local enforcer in Nuevo Laredo, because he was a hitman for the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a criminal complaint filed by police that was made available as a part of the habeas corpus writ.
But a source, with knowledge of the investigation, said Serrano was the target because a woman with whom Velasquez had been involved had given Serrano sensitive information about the Zetas.
Investigators have not been able to locate the woman.
This incident is not the only time Velasquez's name has come up in connection with alleged Syndicate associates.
When he was arrested in December 2006 for smuggling marijuana, Nuñez Sanchez told federal investigators he had been hired the previous month by Velasquez to attempt to kidnap the owner of an 8-liner gambling establishment.
Nuñez Sanchez and Oslan Rivera were charged by federal authorities in September with attempting to kidnap Linh "Larry" Tuan Do, the owner of Entertainment World and the informant who helped federal investigators and prosecutors make their corruption case against former Laredo Police Chief Agustin Dovalina III, former Lt. Eloy Rodriguez and former Sgt. Alfonso Santos.
At about 8 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2006, Nuñez Sanchez and Oslan Rivera went to Do's house on Shama Circle, according to court documents. Nuñez Sanchez approached the residence wearing a reflective vest and holding a clipboard. When Do's wife answered the door, the two forced their way in.
Do heard his wife scream, and came into room carrying a 9 mm pistol. Finding his wife and daughter held at gunpoint, he tried to fire the gun, but it jammed and he fled to his bedroom to retrieve another one. Oslan Rivera chased him through the bedroom, kicked down the door of the bathroom Do had run into, and fired a shot at him.
The bullet missed, but Do fell to the floor and Oslan Rivera ran out shouting, "I already got him."
Nuñez Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and Oslan Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, were never indicted on the attempted kidnapping charges. They each pleaded guilty last year to a charge of being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm. The date of that offense is Nov. 10, 2006, the same day Do's home was invaded.
Nuñez Sanchez told investigators that Velasquez and two bodyguards had escorted him into Laredo from Mexico. Nuñez Sanchez said he was promised $5,000 to kidnap Do.
He has since retracted that statement in court, and law enforcement officials have not confirmed the veracity of Nuñez Sanchez's statements about Velasquez. Oslan Rivera told investigators that he thought they were going to the house on Shama to steal money from a maquinitas owner.
Nuñez Sanchez's attorney, Jeffery Czar, has said he does not believe the incident on Shama was a kidnapping attempt. He said federal authorities prosecuted the two men on the weapons charge because no other violations of federal law had occurred.
Guillen, the prosecutor, said investigators have no information that there is a connection between the incident on Shama and the Zetas.
"We have been unable to uncover any ties between the Zetas and that home invasion," Guillen said. "But law enforcement has been able to investigate and come up with suspects we believe are involved with and are responsible for the home invasion.
"This is not to say we don't believe there are connections," he said. "One aspect of our current investigation is the Texas Syndicate's ties to cartels from across the border."
Syndicate associates have been linked to the February 2007 killings of Michael Lopez and Erardo Martinez at a Laredo maquinitas place. Lopez was the intended target of Gabriel Cardona, a man that investigators said was a Zeta hitman. Cardona and Rosario Reta have pleaded guilty to murder charges stemming from the death of Noe Flores, Lopez's half brother.
The two were part of a three-man cell that carried out murders for the Zetas, according to testimony in Reta's murder trial. Treviño had ordered the killings, including the intended hit on Lopez, according to the testimony.
Guillen said there is no evidence linking Lopez's and Martinez's murders to the Zetas, but acknowledged that Lopez had some connection to the cartel.
Marquez has been charged with two counts of murder in connection with their deaths. Warrants have been issued for others believed to be involved in Martinez's and Lopez's deaths and the home invasion on Shama, authorities said.
(Jason Buch may be reached at 728-2547 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
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