LAREDO, Texas -Late yesterday afternoon, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts on 14 of 16 counts charged against the five remaining defendants charged as a result of Operation Reload, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. Twenty-nine defendants were arrested as a result of Operation Reload and, with these convictions, all 29 have now been convicted.
The jury found Leandro Salas Galaviz, 35, and Norberto Alaniz, 37, of Laredo, guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Galaviz was also found guilty of six additional counts of possession with intent to distribute either cocaine or marijuana, while Alaniz was found guilty of an additional count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Leandro Salas Galaviz, Mayra Lopez, 31, Josefina Galaviz, 55, and Yesica Magana, 31, were all found guilty of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds in addition to at least one other money laundering count. United States District Judge Micaela Alavarez, who presided over the more than weeklong trial, has scheduled sentencing for all five defendants for Oct. 13, 2011.
Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Operation Reload was an investigation spearheaded by the Laredo offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) which culminated in several indictments being returned in December 2009 and unsealed in January 2010. Following the unsealing of the indictments, law enforcement authorities arrested 29 defendants charged for their part in drug and money laundering organizations based out of Laredo.
Leandro Salas Galaviz is an illegal resident living in Laredo under the false identity of Daniel Obregon. Galaviz and co-conspirator, Norberto Alaniz, stand convicted of shipping multi-ton quantities of marijuana and cocaine from the Laredo area to destinations in Dallas, Fort Worth, Chicago and other areas. During the course of trial, the jury heard testimony which identified Galaviz as having been placed in Laredo by the Gulf Carel/Zetas and responsible for finding transportation for marijuana and cocaine shipments. Alaniz was identified as one of many other co-conspirators who assisted Galaviz in transporting or arranging for the transportation of marijuana and cocaine loads from Laredo to Dallas and other destinations.
Leandro Salas Galaviz, along with his wife, Lopez, his mother, Josefina Galaviz, and his sister, Yesica Magana, all of Laredo, were convicted for their part in the money laundering conspiracy which involved the use of multiple bank accounts used to conduct financial transactions designed to conceal and disguise the true nature and ownership of the thousands of dollars of cash proceeds deposited and withdrawn from those accounts. These defendants also conducted numerous financial transactions through the use of bank accounts and in relation to the purchase and sale of vehicles and real property. Lopez and Josefina Galaviz invested drug proceeds in a local Laredo business incorporated under the name of Via Italia Devine also in an attempt to conceal the true illicit source of the money.
Between 2004 through 2009, evidence showed that almost $2 million in cash drug proceeds were deposited into those accounts. In April 2008, Leandro Salas Galaviz and his mother, who was employed as a temporary worker at the time, paid $148,000 towards the purchase of a lot on the golf course of the Plantation Subdivision. Between June 2008 and December 2009, Leandro Salas Galaviz used cash proceeds in excess of $400,000 towards the construction of a luxury home on the lot.
Through testimony, the jury learned that in 2003, when Leandro Salas Galaviz and his wife first came to the United States, he was working at a doughnut shop making doughnuts in the Dallas area. After moving to Laredo, he worked as a car salesman in various car dealerships, but made little income. The jury heard recorded conversations in which Leandro Salas Galaviz was recorded saying that the drug trafficking job was all about making money. “One gets to work well and you get paid well.” In recorded conversations, he is heard discussing having shipped millions of dollars in drug proceeds back to Mexico and the Cartel/Zetas. The government’s evidence also proved that large money transfers were being sent from Mexico to the various bank accounts used by Leandro Salas Galaviz, Lopez and Josefina Galaviz. Money laundering carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount of the financial transaction, whichever is greater.
Numerous recorded conversations of Leandro Salas Galaviz were also presented during the trial and played for the jury proving his leadership role of the Laredo based drug trafficking organization. Many of the conversations were recorded in 2007 when the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas were still aligned. During many of the recordings, Leandro Salas Galaviz admits he worked directly under Jaime Gonzalez Duran aka Hummer, a known high ranking Zeta, who is now in the custody of Mexican authorities. Leandro Salas Galaviz also admitted he had direct ties to Heriberto Lazcano, aka Zeta 14, Ivan Velasquez Caballero, aka Talivan or 50, and Velasquez’s brother, Danny Velasquez, aka 52, Sergio Pena Mendoza, aka El Concord – now in Mexican custody, and Miguel Angel Trevino, aka 40. Leandro Salas Galaviz is also overheard discussing the recent promotion of Miguel Angel Trevino within the cartel and noting his disapproval because Trevino whom he calls a “Javalin” was difficult to work with, was a cheat, had a bad temper and would kill his people. He noted that it was going to be hard to continue to making money with Trevino in charge.
During recorded conversations, Leandro Salas Galaviz refers to the Gulf Cartel/Zetas as “La Compania” and notes that La Compania has given him power. In a 2007 conversation, Leandro Salas Galaviz is recorded saying he had been trafficking drugs for the Company for five years. He tells others to think of him as if he were part of “la letra,” a reference to being a Zeta. He is also recorded boasting that if it weren’t for his work in Laredo, they (a reference to the Carel/Zetas) would not eat. In yet other recorded conversations, Leandro Salas Galaviz discusses having sent millions of dollars to Mexico in tractors for loads of drugs delivered in the United States. Ironically, in yet other conversations, he is heard saying that half the people he started with (in drug trafficking) are dead and the other half are in jail. Leandro Salas Galaviz stated in recordings that , “if they ever arrest me here, I never get out.” Galaviz faces a maximum of life imprisonment without parole for the drug conspiracy conviction as well as millions in fines.
Numerous other recorded conversations involved Norberto Alaniz admitting he was working for Leandro Salas Galaviz when he was arrested in 2006 at the Highway 59 Checkpoint driving a tractor which contained 62 kilograms of cocaine and his having continued to work for Leandro Salas Galaviz after the arrest by finding drivers who could transport loads of drugs. Alaniz admits to having arranged for the transportation of a ton of marijuana for Leandro Salas Galaviz which was later seized by law enforcement. Alaniz also faces a maximum of life imprisonment without parole for his drug conspiracy convction.
In addition to the guilty verdicts, the jury also returned special verdicts forfeiting to the United States a home in the Prestwick subdivision of Plantation which the government proved was built with drug proceeds, as well as $118,000 from a bank account used during the money laundering scheme.
With the exception of Magana, who has been permitted to remain on bond pending sentencing, all others are in and will remain in federal custody without bond pending sentencing.
One of the other key defendants arrested and charged as a result of Operation Reload, Omar Compean, was sentenced this week by Judge Alvarez. Compean, the head of a transportion cell that transported drug loads for Leandro Salas Galaviz, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana prior to this trial. Judge Alvarez sentenced Compean to 262 months in federal prison without parole and fined him $250,000.
Assistant United States Attorneys Mary Lou Castillo and Mary Ellen Smyth tried the case.