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Trial Notes – Methamphetamine Ring – Guilty as Charged – Austin, TX

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October 7, 2013


Last April, a central Texas task force shattered two connected Austin drug rings linked to Knights Templar in Mexico. They snared 37 distributors and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of meth and drug proceeds.


The original three count federal grand jury indictment returned April 2, 2013, the result of an investigation between October 1, 2011 and April 1, 2013 in Western district of Texas, charges 27 individuals with one count of possession with the intent to distribute and distributing methamphetamine. The indictment states defendants Jose Rodriguez, Jose Hernandez, and Maria Granados face one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and an additional charge of one count of conspiracy to launder money.


The US attorney’s office for the Western District of Texas said in the original indictment that “Jose Rodriguez was the Austin cell head of a large Mexican based trafficking organization associated with the Knights Templar. During the investigation, authorities have seized over 75 kilograms of methamphetamine, ten kilograms of cocaine and two kilograms of heroin attributed to this distribution network”

“During the investigation agents were able to seize multiple loads of drugs and proceeds from the sale of drugs….”
The members of this conspiracy, who flooded Texas and beyond with methamphetamine (case AU:13-CR-00164) were only about half the number of defendants charged. The 14 who appeared in a second grand jury indictment handed down on also on April 2, 2013 (case AU13-CR-00166) are still facing drug trafficking and money laundering charges. The date for their pending trial now stands tentatively Nov. 4, 2013.
U.S. v. Jose Rodriguez, et al. — AU:13-CR-00164

Prosecution: Assistant US Attorney Daniel Guest,
Prosecution: Assistant US Attorney Daniel M. Castillo
Defense: Attorney James G. Walker (Eliazar Garza)
Defense: Attorney Heather Fisher

Trial Notes
At the Sept.13th pending motions/status conference in Judge Sam Spark’s courtroom, many of those charged in Federal Case AU:13-CR-00164 were finalizing plea agreements for conspiracy to distribute controlled substance meth, and/or drug conspiracy/money laundering charges, as defendant Jose Rodriguez. But defendants Eliazar Garza and Jose Zavala, who wholesaled meth. in the Dallas area, weren’t in court and remained undecided. By 4:30 PM, the decision was finalized, both Garza and Zavala would stand trial facing one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance – methamphetamine. They were the only defendants to do so in case AU:13-CR-00164.
Jose Rodriguez most recently had based part of his operation out of a two story apartment on Decker Lane in Austin that he shared with defendant Rogelio Macedo and his cousin, defendant Maria Granados, who was in charge of money laundering for the operation. Rodriguez’s right hand man, defendant Jose Hernandez, lived in a one-story apartment in the same Decker Lane complex about 30 yards away.
Early in the investigation the prosecution requested GPS ping court orders for mobile devices, in order to intercept the location of phones with hopes of widening the investigation. Calls were traced in this investigation in Texas, NY, NJ and Oklahoma.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Guess and Federal Case Investigator agent David Clayborn unraveled the intricate weave of case details for the jury. They provided wire tap information which exhibited a clipped, coded language used amongst the distributors. It made little sense to anyone except obviously those communicating, and eventually to the Spanish linguists/transcribers, privy to the onslaught of wire tapped calls who translated with investigators who broke the code.
The jury was subjected to transcript after transcript of “narcospeak,” digesting times and places of drug buys and money exchanges. Rodriguez communicated with Ramiro Soto from Mexico in “narcospeak”; and Rodriguez, with Jesse Treviño. Garza and Zavala, communicated in this brand of “narcospeak” with Rodriguez; and Hernandez and Rodriguez spoke it to each other. Just about every sentence started and ended with “cousin,” interspersed with the words, “contracts’, “papers”, “estrella” (/star/Dallas), “ostion” (oyster/Houston), “NY,” “blueprints,” “tile color”, etc.
The federal agents and other law enforcement officers testifying before Judge Sam Spark’s brought to light the world of vehicles with secret compartments. “Using hidden compartments in cars, law enforcement officials said, the organization moved meth and cocaine to one of the business at 3506 Darby St, which is owned by defendant Jess Trevino. The shipment would then be prepared for transport to distributors in Dallas, Oklahoma City and other cities in other states, authorities originally stated.

The jury learned hidden inside the secret compartments was unprocessed brownish methamphetamine coming over the border from Mexico, packed in plastic, slathered with mustard in one case, wrapped again with plastic and more duct tape. Then it was sprayed to death with Febreeze air freshener. It was stashed at JT Body & Paint cleaned, processed, dyed blue, pink red, and sometimes sweetened by Jose Rodriguez and dispatched by Rodriguez to distributors in Dallas and Oklahoma City. Among the people to receive large quantities of meth from Jose Rodriguez was Jesse Trevino from JT Body & Paint.

Evidence presented by Federal Agents Oct. 3 and 4, 2013

Witness Jason Ford

Jason Ford is a Twenty-three year law enforcement officer veteran, DEA task force member and 11 year veteran in the Dallas narcotic division. Jason Ford conducted many narcotic surveillances and was an important liaison for surveillance and searches in this investigation. On May 30, 2012. Agent Royce Clayborn, director of this investigation, asked for help from the Dallas narcotics team with a silver Nissan Maximum known to be traveling north. Agent Ford tried to intercept the vehicle in the afternoon with his partner Jose Fonseca, north of Dallas, but the traffic was too heavy.
Agent Ford testified that he and his partner observed the vehicle pulling into a Walgreens. He saw two men having a conversation as they peered into the open trunk which contained a cooler. One was defendant Eliazar Garza, the other was defendant Rogelio Macedo, roommate and also the other right hand man of Jose Rodriguez. He lived with him at 1707 Blessing Lane in Austin before they moved their residence to Decker Lane. Jose Hernandez also moved his residence from Blessing Lane to be near Rodriguez, the head of this Austin cell. Officer Forseca videotaped the meeting.
Assistant US Attorney Guess identified defendant Jose Hernandez for the jury on Ford’s surveillance video. Jose Rodriguez’s right hand man, as the man seen walking out of the Walgreens Pharmacy half way through the surveillance video, re-joining defendant Rogelio Mecedo, shaking hands with and defendant Elazar Garza. They were all witnessed staring into a trunk of a Nissan Maxima. Both Macedo and Hernandez copped pleas.

According to Agent Ford, Garza, a Dallas meth. distributor, got in his grey Dodge pickup truck, with TX plates AN6 3890, and led the Nissan out of the parking lot. Ford and Forseca followed both cars for about six miles to the Willow Green Condos at 17490 Meandering Way. They went around back and witnessed the silver Nissan in front of garage #606 and spotted the grey Dodge pickup truck inside.

The agents thought they were too obviously visible in that setting. So Ford provided DPS with the license plate information, photos and May 30th video of Mr. Garza.

Agent Ford did regular spot checks of the Garza residence. Noting, every time the garage door was up, the truck was inside the garage.
On August 22, 2012, Agent Clayborn requested surveillance of Eliazar Garza. So Ford cruised the alley in back of the complex where Garza’s garage was located. On one pass, he spotted a black Mercedes (DX6H53). Garza was outside talking to three Hispanic men, all of whom definitely noted his passing.
Ford identified Garza as the same individual he had seen May 30 in the Walgreen’s parking lot.
Agent Clayborn asked Ford to also try to locate another truck in the complex, one from Oklahoma. He did and relayed the information to Clayborn. It was later discovered to belong to Omar Salazar, who traveled from Texas to NY and NJ in what investigators said was to expand his territory eastward.

During surveillance on September 6, 2012, Ford saw Garza leave the condo complex in his Dodge. He followed Garza toward the LBJ freeway. The Dodge did a bunch of intricate u-turns, termed by law enforcement as “running heat,” meaning Garza was trying to lose the tail. Agent Ford said Garza was very attuned to being followed and adept at losing heat. So Ford ended surveillance for the day.

Ford continued to spot check the Garza garage area periodically, but he never saw anyone again. Nor had he ever seen Garza go to a legitimate job site because he never knew one existed.

At one point, the defense said that Garza remodeled residences, which was why he spent so much time in his garage. The defense was told there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support that train of thought. In fact, Assistant US Attorney Daniel Guess said, “Eliazar Garza as “the first point of Dallas distribution for Jose Rodriguez .”

On April 10, 2012, an arrest warrant was issued for Eliazar Garza. They searched his residence with consent. No evidence was found on site.
Witness David Kral has been a Texas highway patrol trooper since 2007, conducting traffic stops in several Texas cities. Since 2010, he has been a DPS trooper in New Braunfels. Kral received a call from a CID officer regarding a tan Ford Ranger (BF30448) traveling North on I-35 suspected to be trafficking narcotics. He located vehicle in the community of Shirtz in Comal County and stopped it in New Braunfels.

He called a K-9 unit. The dog gave a positive alert for drugs. The Ford Ranger was taken to a New Braunfels body shop for further analysis. A false compartment was located in the wall of the truck. They removed the panel and found 10 bundles of meth. about 13 1/2 pounds. He relayed information to the CID agents. Since it was their case, he deferred to them.The driver of the truck was identified as defendant Jaime Eguia.

The next witness Reed Nathan Rackley, has been a trooper enforcing highway penal code, since 2008 near Mcallen, Texas and then later in the Halinger area until April 2013, when he was promoted to a DPS criminal investigator

On Oct 26, 2012, Rackley was on US 77 watching northbound traffic. North of Ramondville, He conducted a stop of a red GMC truck with an extended cab. Defendant Brian Keith McCarty consented to the search. Rackley suspected drugs were in the frame because the was a lack of holes typically in all frames which indicated it had been altered. The truck was sent for analysis. A compartment was located on the inside frame roll under the engine. The engine had to be lifted off the block to get at the compartment, which contained 10 bundles of meth.
DPS forensic scientist Zargosa tested the meth and found 4.74 kilos of 80% purity.
The prosecutors exhibited photos of the confiscated load of methamphetamine.
The courtroom was read and watched transcript on a screen of conversations between Jose Rodriguez and Jose Hernandez trying to locate Brian McCarty with the load of meth.
Witness Roque Martinez, was an officer with Austin Police Department for more than seven years who previously had served in the US Army from 2000-2005. Martinez trained in East Austin “Charlie Sector,” Interdiction Unit. Interdiction is to stop criminals on highways. He trained with canines. After training for a significant time, he partnered with K-9 canine, Tommy in 2010. Officer Martinez still trains four hours a week with canines..
On Dec. 14, 2012, Roque Martinez was tipped off by Special Agent Clayborn to a grey Chrysler 300 suspected of transporting drugs. He conducted a stop and search with the K-9 unit on Decker Lane and Loyola in Austin east of 183. He found a bag containing 3 bags of white meth. in the console and two bags of the green-blue meth under a blue coat in a Remy Martin box in the back seat. It was taken over to Charlie sector station for processed into evidence. Driver Oscar Reyna Duarte was placed in Travis County jail.

The tinted blue crystal and colorless meth was tested in the laboratory by Witness forensic scientist Katherine Sanchez. She brought in the evidence for the jury which included the white “colorless powder,” and the blue-green meth in the Remy Martin box. The white, “colorless powder” tested out 91% pure, while the blue-green, which is the current rage, tested at 88% pure.

Witness Randall Kevin Hicks, is a special agent with the DEA task force, and also part of the HIDA Task force since 2011, where he readily experiences 15 agencies working together with the IRS. He has been privy to all aspects of this investigation and is fully aware of all complexities of this drug ring, having listened to countless drug deal arrangements through information garnered from the many intercepted phone conversations, and having participated in the surveillance operations of cash drop-offs and drug buys.
Hicks explained to the court, “Houston is where the actual wire room is. There is ‘a listening post in Austin. Austin investigators take turns of listening post duty.” He further explained that from Houston a linguist was typing and directing field agents to different locations. Jose Rodriguez’s Nextel Direct Connect phone with the radio function was the source.
The jury again was read phone conversations between Jose Zavala and Jose Rodriguez, where he referred to his boss in this operation as “Turitzu.” Ramiro Soto is from Turitzu near Huetamo, Michoacán. Soto is the main Knights of Templar supplier to Austin cell leader Jose Rodriguez, the main meth. dealer of the operation. Rodriguez described his boss to Zavala as different but a good different. Ramiro Soto is still at large in Mexico.
Rodriguez was heard in telephone conversations discussing how to get drug proceeds back to Mexico. Many conversations between Ramiro Soto and Rodriguez were reserved for color discussions of meth. Apparently, crystal meth “walks” because white buyers get bored with the plain white, and Jose Rodriguez was “bad ass” at washing and dying techniques that brought the color through the product not just on the outer crust. When things slowed down he used the dye to spice things up and get the stuff moving. He said that he gave “Estrella” blue and it “walks fast,” pink walks and white guys love popsicle red. He spoke of white guys liking sweetener.
DPS agent Jefferey Layer searched Jose H and Rodruiguez’s trash and found many red popsicle sticks, bags of sugar and wrappers containing a red meth residue.
On Sept 25, a call was intercepted between Jose Rodriguez and Manuel “Manny” Ponce, who was a source supplier based in Apatzingan (assumably a Knights Templar connection), regarding the location of late courier Marin Alexander Adias, who was causing great concern for Rodriguez and Hernandez with his tardiness. Ponce said the load was wrapped with a layer of mustard and tons of Febreeze so they had nothing to worry about.
Much communication was devoted to the worry about the following load which you’ll be spared.

A white Honda Accord (lic: CD9 J559) carrying the load was stopped for speeding, and the driver Marin Adias had a previous warrant. The car, which had previously been spotted in meth deliveries, was brought in for analysis, and in a void where the frame meets the floor, they found 12 packages. Jefferey Keverline Forensic Analyst for Texas DPS said 4.59 kilos were tested on Sept. 27 and it was 80% pure.

Prosecutor Guess continued with exhibitions of photos of confiscated loads, residences, surveillance photos of meeting places,and screened transcripts of translated phone conversations ofJose Rodriguez and Zavala arranging drug deals, cash drops, all of it directed through intercepted phone conversations.

Guess said the ring’s MO was to meet at public locations and then, in follow-the-leader style, move to another more secure location for a quick hand off, much like what was witnessed with Garza in the Walgreens parking lot. The ring used many different fast food locations around East Austin, such as Los Rotos, Pollo Regio, McDonald’s, Captain Benny’s at 5700 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd., the Tigermart, Shell station/Wendy’s on 290, Rancho Mercado and JT Body & Paint.
The jury was then shown photo exhibits of vehicles found with secret compartments, including a gold Grand Prix implicated by Stephanie Blanco and Blanca Briseno bringing a load over the border and meeting with Jose Rodriguez. A week later the same gold car was stpped in Kingsland, Texas and found to contain 7.3 kilos hidden within.

More transcripts of intercepted phone calls were read to the jury between Rodriguez and Jose Zavala and Eliazar Garza regarding meth color and delivery details.

In one phone call, Jose Rodriguez told Jose Zavala not to worry about “tile” color but to deliver paper. They mention the Shell station near the Wendy’s on highway 290/Airport Blvd. with a Panda Chinese restaurant next to it. Zavala said he was running an errand and he’d be there soon.

Following the leads dispatched from messages relayed from Houston wire interception station, agents went to Wendy’s and located a white Hummer (#CP Z649) registered to Jose Zavala. They also noted Rodriguez’s black Mercedes observing the scene from across the street. Jose Rodriguez saw a cop car (unrelated to this investigation) and called “Fierozo,” meaning “cop car,” and departed. The white Hummer pulled out of the Wendy’s/Shell and went to the Tiger Mart on I-35 and St. John’s. There was a lightening quick exchange and the vehicles departed.

Witness Officer Tommy Hale, with 35 years of experience and a member of the Dallas DEA task force, Sept. 20 received a request for help from Agent Ford to go to Ellis County and intercept Zavala in the white Hummer for identification. After two hours driving North on I-35, the white hummer was stopped in Waxahachie. Jose Zavala, accompanied by his 14 year-old daughter, Ruby Zavala Pineda, was identified. The vehicle was searched. They didn’t expect to find drugs from the search, and they didn’t; the search was for identification purposes only. Agents then followed the Hummer to 302 W Shaw Street in Duncanville.
A phone conversation on Oct. 26 between Zavala and Rodriguez was relayed to officers saying Jose “Gordo” Hernandez was inside a McDonald’s. Zavala said he’d be arriving in a white car, a white BMW which was seen traveling on 290 and Tuscany Lane. It pulled up to a black Cadillac. Zavala reported that the guy in the black Cadillac said some of “the paper” is missing. Rodriguez said to tell him to recount it. Zavala left and went to Rancho Mercado, but Hernandez was still eating ice cream in the McDonald’s. Jose Rodriguez’s black Mercedes DX6 H533 pulled into Ranch Mercado, where he left the vehicle and went to talk to the passenger of the white BMW. One minute later, Rodriguez walked away with a package.
After eating ice cream for two hours at McDonald’s, Hernandez was finally seen arriving at Rancho Mercado. He approached and talked through the passenger window.The two people in the white Honda were identified defendant Enrique Zavala and his father, Jose Zavala.
The government needed to hurry. By Nov. 2012, they had 27 people identified. Getting the full scope of the investigation was time consuming. In early December, they heard both Rodriguez and Hernandez were getting ready to leave the area. On December 18, they issued warrants for both their arrests.
At Decker Lane apt #4802, the residence of Jose Rodriguez, Rogelio Macedo and Maria Granados, they found a drawer of $85,000 staked needly in a drawer, a money counter and tons of elastic bands. Nineteen Taylor cell phones were also seized which were connected to intercepted calls. These phones were rotated though out the investigation by ring members.On Rodriguez’s phone, his SIM card contained his telephone number and the other is your MZ radio number. Sept. 20 his MZ had registered many call to Zavala.
Investigators seized a messy financial ledger of Jose Rodriguez’s, which wasn’t designed for easy comprehension, but was structured in a way that agents had seen before, laying out kilos and the amount paid and what was still outstanding.
Ledgar entries were seen for $43,000 (2 kilos fronted) – $21,000 per kilo, $11,500 for money put down, with the word “se debe Reynosa,” “al Primito,” “estrella,” pollo, shell etc.
Thirty yards away, in Jose Hernandez’s apartment, Decker Lane Apt. 4903, they found acetone, alcohol to wash meth and keep the chards long, which buyers want.
They also found 3 bags of meth, 1 kilo of plain, 2 bags (about 6 kilos) of blue meth, water bongs, a Glock, scales, stainers, zip lock bags.

On April 10 search of Jose Zavala’s residence at 302 N. Shaw turned up the white Hummer and the white BMW registered to Zavala. In the console of the Hummer hidden under a blue bag for a 9mm “24-7” semi automatic was a loaded magazine.

In a cabinet of drawers they found a loaded .45-caliber weapon, a loaded magazine, 2 duct taped bundles of cash totaling $36,000, a passport for Ruby Zavala Pinon, recognized as Zavala’s daughter from the previous Hummer identification stop. There was a scale to weigh narcotics, three cell phones and tons of ammunition.

In Enrique Zavala’s room, there was a loaded .45 Colt handgun found under his pillow. And a long firearm was uncovered in a guest residence attached to the house.
The phones were seized and sent to the DEA for analysis, which just reinforced the evidence they already had
The Government rested their case. The defense moved for acquittal for lack of evidence. They also mentioned acquittal was necessary because Agent Hicks got the Jose and Enrique Zavala mixed up one time when testifying to the grand jury. Then they claimed that because Zavala hadn’t plea bargained, like is son, Enrique, then obviously, he was innocent. Also they noted Jose appeared very late in the two year investigation. Maybe they were insinuating that it was a case of mixed up identity anyway. It all seemed like an after thought.
The jury just stared at the defense as if to say, “After all that information…that’s what you come up with?” and “Really, how can that possibly matter that much? or “So what?”
Prosecutor Daniel Castillo wrapped up didn’t acknowledge that defensive tactic. He just kept going..
After jury instructions from Judge Sam Sparks, the jury left to deliberate. Someone said, “This shouldn’t be long.” One attorney quipped, “You’ve been here long enough to know they’ll stay at least long enough to get lunch.”
After five hours, the jury returned and announced that they had found both Eliazar Garza and Jose Zavala guilty.

Now both defendants wait for their sentences. Judge Sparks said that that process will take more than 60 days, because of the complexities of the case and the number of people that have taken pleas.

(Interestingly, at that moment, in another courtroom three stories above Sparks’ room, Judge Lee Yeakel was handing down sentences in another big Austin drug trial that also involved an auto body shop. See Jazmine Ulloa’s story from Austin American Statesman below.)

East Austin body shop owner among 20 sentenced in drug trafficking ring
Drug cases lead to guilty verdicts, sentences

by Jazmine Ulloa

An East Austin body shop owner Thursday was among 20 people sentenced in a drug trafficking ring that used his business as a distribution hub, funnelling cash, cocaine and methamphetamine between Mexico and the United States.
In another federal court Thursday, two men were found guilty of running methamphetamine in a similar but unrelated operation at a different body shop in far East Austin. They are the last two defendants to be convicted in a raid that netted more than 20 people.
The cases were the result of separate two-year investigations conducted by Central Texas task forces aiming to disrupt the flow of methamphetamine making its way across the state, which is increasingly supplied by Mexican organized crime groups and produced with more potent chemicals.
In court Thursday, prosecutors said Hugo Castillo Gaspar, 43, was leader of an organization that received its drug supply from Mexican sources, though it worked independently of the cartels. The body shop owner was arrested in February along with 10 others when authorities swept through Gaspar’s business, G.R. Custom Body and Paint at 4826 E. Cesar Chavez St. Officers confiscated up to $200,000 in cash, $400,000 in other assets, methamphetamine and more than a dozen weapons, court records show.
All 20 people implicated accepted guilty pleas last month for charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and bulk cash smuggling.

Gaspar’s defense lawyer and two teenage daughters asked U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel to consider a lesser sentence, describing him as a good father and the main provider for his wife and six children. Gaspar, standing in a black-and-white striped jumpsuit, apologized for his actions but said others, whom he had considered his friends, thrust the blame on him.

“I am not a trafficker,” he said in Spanish. “I did jobs for these people, and if they used me … then it’s quite different. I am not the monster that they have made me out to be.”
Gaspar, who has two felony convictions for entering the U.S. illegally, received the highest punishment, more than 19 years in prison. Sentences for the others ranged from two to nine years in prison.
In another court Thursday, a federal jury deliberated for five hours before finding Eliazar Garza and Jose Zavala guilty of acting as Dallas distributors for a meth ring operating out of JT Body and Paint at 3506 Darby St., near Ed Bluestein Boulevard and Hudson Street, which was raided more than a month after Gaspar’s business.
In that case, more than 20 people in the elaborate network, a cell of the Mexican criminal enterprise Knights Templar, have pleaded guilty to drug and money laundering charges, according to court records. Sentencing hearings for the defendants and more than 20 other people implicated in the case will be set within 60 days, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said.

Garza and Zavala are facing 10 years to life in prison.


OCT. 3 2013







(5)ABEL GAONA (CUSTODY) – 70 mos






(13)GALDINO LOZA (BOND) – 46 mos.









HONORABLE Lee Yeakel, Thursday, October 03, 2013 @ 4:15:34 PM ( PUBLIC ) Page 3 of 25
Janie Ney Jones, Courtroom Deputy may be reached at (512) 391-8709 Thursday, October 03, 2013

Thanks to Chivis for the great chart and thanks to Jazmine Ulloa

2011-Why La Familia Targets Austin

Sources: Justicegov, Texas Courts, Examiner, Austin-American Statesman, FBI, DEA, Statesman, Keye, KXAN, highway interdiction


About Doc

Spreading the word about the dangers of methamphetamine.

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