RIO GRANDE CITY, TX (KRGV) – Five self-confessed drug cartel members were arrested in Starr County, in connection with human smuggling.
They were picked up early Wednesday morning.
The Starr County District Attorney’s Office is handling part of the investigation. They said this is an indication the Mexican cartel members are running from other people and taking cover in the Rio Grande Valley or doing illegal business here.
Officials with Starr County DA said Border Patrol and DPS spotted a raft in the river near Roma at 7:00 a.m; they followed it.
The six men on board jumped off and got into a black Ford F-150. The driver admitted to being paid $80 to $100 per person to illegally transport the passengers.
The passengers wound up confessing to being members of the Gulf Cartel.
“Upon further investigation, those five individuals admitted to being part of a drug trafficking organization. The state has agreed to bring charges against the driver for human smuggling. The other five individuals were turned over to U.S. Marshals, and they will be facing charges at the federal level,” the Starr County’s assistant district attorney said.
The prosecutor said these people seem to be proud of their roles in the cartel.
“They’re still coming across; they’re still continuing their illegal enterprises,” the prosecutor said. “It’s transnational crime, and we have so many resources in the Valley to tackle on this particular type of crime and it’s still happening, you know, in broad daylight. And the fact again that they’re so brazen to say this is who I’m with and this is what I do, is pretty shocking.”
The assistant DA said they have their own suspicions as to why these cartel members sneaked into the border.
“If you’re pretty high on the command on the Mexican side, why would you cross over?” the assistant DA questioned. “It only tells me that they’re running from somebody or taking cover here or on the opposite end, that they’re looking for somebody that’s come over here. It’s a vicious cycle that, you know, it doesn’t stop.”
The prosecutor said these arrests are confirming what people already know, that these drug cartel members aren’t stopping.
“The problem is ever increasing. The safety of our community is at stake, and we have federal, state, local law enforcement officers also putting their lives on the line, but this arrest occurred at approximately seven in the morning. So obviously, they’re not working at night or working covertly, it’s in the morning. It’s normal business for them,” the Starr County’s assistant district attorney said.
The drug cartel arrests concern the president of the local Border Patrol union, as well.
“They may be trying to get away from some violence that’s happening in Reynosa the past few days,” Chris Cabrera said. “There’s been a lot gun battles going on, and they may be trying to save themselves by coming over here, where it’s quiet. The unfortunate thing is if they’re running from something, whoever it is may follow them here and try and finish here.”
The prosecutor said the recent arrests are an indication the spillover has happened. They don’t think the Valley will go back to being described as a quiet community.
“I think that it’s going to be something that the law enforcement community is going to have to tackle, and find more innovate ways of keeping the violence at a minimal on the United States side,” the prosecutor said.
The driver of the pickup truck, 31-year-old Jose Raul Aldape Hernandez, was arraigned on human smuggling charges Wednesday. He remains out on bond. The Starr County Sheriff’s Office said he posted a $1,000 bond.
The passengers are in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
DPS, HIS, U.S. Marshals, along with state and federal prosecutors are working on this case.