Agents nab man identified in La Familia meth trafficking probe

The Monitor, Texas/July 21, 2011

McAllen - Federal agents have arrested a man accused in a methamphetamine trafficking ring led by what's left of La Familia Michoacana drug cartel.

Agents arrested Gabriel Villarreal on Tuesday at an unknown location in the Rio Grande Valley as part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Its target: about 65 people named in four indictments who purportedly moved methamphetamine between Mexico and Dallas.

Most of the arrests in the case have been centered on Dallas, a hub for Mexican drugs headed north from Texas' southern border.

Villarreal's alleged involvement in the meth smuggling ring remains unknown, as is the case with the dozens of other suspects identified in four indictments filed last month in U.S. District Court in Dallas.

Prosecutors allege the suspects set up meth purchases from La Familia's home turf in Michoacán state, which straddles the Pacific coast west of Mexico City.

Smugglers moved the methamphetamine shipments north from Mexico, through Texas to the greater Dallas area, using stash houses to store the drugs and cash proceeds from the operation, an indictment states.

Court records show the investigation dates to 2009. The DEA investigation into La Familia drug cartel was first reported by The Dallas Morning News last month.

The smugglers purportedly communicated in coded language to discuss the quality and quantity of meth that was moved and moved bulk amounts of cash back to Mexico after selling the loads, the indictment states.

La Familia Michoacana got its start in 2006 after splitting off from the Gulf Cartel, the dominant group of drug traffickers across northeastern Tamaulipas state.

Rather than moving large loads of marijuana, La Familia was a primary supplier of methamphetamine, obtaining much of the stimulant's precursors in bulk shipments from Asia.

U.S. agents have said most of the methamphetamine seized in the Rio Grande Valley can be traced to La Familia, which moves its product through the area with cooperation from the Gulf Cartel.

U.S. federal authorities arrested 303 people with ties to La Familia in 2009. The 44-month operation, dubbed "Project Coronado," disabled much of the cartel's reach and influence in U.S. cities, officials said at the time.

Mexican authorities in December killed La Familia's leader, Nazario Moreno González, who was known for operating the cartel as something of a religious cult that preached family values.

After his death, some operatives in the La Familia split to form the Knights Templar - a rival gang that follows in Moreno's cult-like rhetoric to guide its members that also deals in methamphetamine. Mexican federal police arrested that gang's top hit man, Javier Beltran Arco, on July 13.

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