Fernando Cabrera needed someone with a car to take him to pick up some money that a friend known as “Pancho” in Mexico had asked the 21-year-old South Texan to collect. Cabrera, in turn, asked another friend, who asked a younger buddy whose mother wouldn't let him use the car. Eventually, the younger man found a friend who agreed in October to take a road trip with his buddies from McAllen to North Texas.
Cabrera testified that he thought he was picking up drug money. Only later did he realize it was ransom for a kidnapping and possibly connected to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Nygul Anderson, 19, and Albert Gonzalez, 18, were both convicted of one count of conspiracy to use an interstate facility to commit a travel act violation Friday in federal court in Fort Worth. A 17-year-old juvenile was also arrested, and Cabrera has already pleaded guilty. Anderson and Gonzalez face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 fine.
They also face two other counts — conspiracy to possess extortion proceeds and attempted money laundering — the U.S. Attorney's Office Northern District of Texas announced in a March 2 press release.
Brian D Poe, a Fort Worth attorney who represents Gonzalez, claims that the government conceded that neither his client, the juvenile nor Anderson knew anything about the kidnapping ransom. He says the cartel connection mentioned by the Fort Worth Star Telegram in a March 2 report was never brought up in court.
“There is no affiliation,” he says.
Nearly six months have passed since the Department of Justice mentioned the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in a press release. Eight people linked to the cartel were arrested and charged with running a large scale meth trafficking organization in North Texas. They had set up several labs “to recrystallize the dope” in multiple residential neighborhoods in Dallas and Desoto and utilized multiple houses on a single street, according to the 16-count indictment filed Sept. 12 in federal court in Dallas.
Federal agents seized 750 kilograms of meth, 2 pounds of heroin and thousands of dollars in cash. A Dallas grand jury indicted them on conspiracy charges to possess and intent to distribute controlled substances. Those indicted included Marco Antonio Gonzalez, 31; Ricardo Mendez-Negrete, 42; Jose Trinidad Medina Tapia, 31, Miguel Carrillo-Ayala, 38; Alma Zoraida Borrayo-Villasenor, 32; Javier Guizar-Hernandez, 28; and Hector Garcia-Gomez, 36.
Ivan “Speedy” Gonzalez, a 22-year-old Oak Cliff business owner, was also arrested and indicted. He'd been caught selling cocaine, marijuana and meth out of his used car dealership Hampton Motors on South Hampton at Brandon Street. Federal authorities accused Gonzalez of using drug money to buy the vehicles and seized 30 from his used car dealership.
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) appeared on the narco scene in July 2010 and became successors to the Sinaloa Cartel network in the Jalisco region of Mexico after the Sinaloa capo Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel was killed by Mexican security forces. A former police officer, Nemesio Oseguera Ramos, known as “El Mencho,” leads the cartel, which is known for its use of extreme violence and to operate in 22 states in Mexico. It's been connected to two sets of massacres, each with about 30 victims, and killing five federal police officers in March 2015, 15 Mexican police officers in April 2015 and shooting down a military helicopter in May 2015, according to a Jan. 30 InSight Crime report.
U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District announced in a Sept. 13 press releases that the top priority for his office is to work with his local and federal law enforcement partners to bring down networks like the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. “Drug trafficking networks like this one are responsible for fueling North Texas' largest drug threats, including methamphetamine and heroin,” Parker said.
About a week after the U.S. Attorney's Office posted its Sept. 13 press release about Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a kidnapper from Mexico called an unidentified North Richland Hills man, demanding $300,000 for the man's two brothers who had been kidnapped. The U.S. Attorney's Office reported that he later lowered the amount to $40,000 and eventually settled for $20,000.
The money drop-off occurred at a 7-Eleven gas station near Interstate 35W and Heritage Trace Parkway in north Fort Worth. After the money was dropped off, the kidnapper called the North Richland Hills man and revealed his brothers' location. The North Richland Hills man's relatives found the brothers tied up alive in a motel room in Mexico.
About a week later, the kidnapper called again and claimed that he works with the Mexican police and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. He demanded an additional $100,000 or else the North Richland Hills man's brothers would be kidnapped again and killed. He gave him until Oct. 13 to gather and drop off the ransom money.
The North Richland Hills man believed the kidnapper, since his brothers had already been kidnapped once before. This time the drop-off would occur at the Home Depot near I-35W and Basswood Boulevard in Fort Worth.
Cabrera rode with Anderson, Gonzalez and the unidentified juvenile in a red Chevrolet Camaro, driving to Houston, then Dallas and eventually to the Home Depot in Fort Worth. It was late afternoon on Oct. 13, and FBI agents were waiting on them.
As they drove up from McAllen, Cabrera communicated with other individuals from Mexico via the WhatsApp application to find out the location where the money was supposed to be picked up. He was instructed that he would be collecting $20,000 and told how to avoid law enforcement detection, federal authorities reported.
The Fort Worth Star Telegram reported Friday that Anderson told federal agents that they were picking up the money for Cabrera's uncle in Mexico.
Anderson and Gonzalez claimed that they didn't know they were picking up drug money, Poe told the Observer on Monday. “[The juvenile also] said that Cabrera never told them it was drug money,” he says. “Based on little things that happened [over the course of the ride], he assumed it was.”
Federal authorities claimed that the friends planned to split the $2,000 that Cabrera was receiving to pick up the money.
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They arrived at Home Deport in Fort Worth shortly after the money drop was made at 4:30 p.m. The juvenile got out of the red sports car to pick up the cash when federal agents swarmed and arrested them.
The U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson Lisa Slimak said the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case declined to comment since the two other counts against Anderson and Gonzalez are still pending in court.
Anderson's attorney couldn't be reached for comment.
Poe told the Observer that he plans to appeal Gonzalez's case.