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Zetas ‘hitman’ trial details assassination cell activity in U.S. and Mexico

Gerardo Castillo-Chavez

A federal grand jury in Laredo, TX, convicted a Zetas-linked “hitman” on a raft of conspiracy, racketeering and weapons charges on Jan. 25, after hearing testimony that outlined activities of the gang’s vicious assassination cells on both sides of the southern border.

Gerardo Castillo-Chavez, also called “Cachetes,” a native of Tamaulipas, Mexico, was convicted on all the counts against him, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, interstate travel in aid of racketeering (ITAR), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime or a crime of violence.

Castillo-Chavez’ trial began on Jan. 17 with jury selection and the verdicts were reached after four-and-a-half days of trial testimony and six hours of deliberation, said the FBI in a Jan. 25 statement.

Castillo-Chavez and 33 others  were charged in Feb. 2010 with 47 counts of conspiracy to kidnap and murder U.S. citizens in a foreign country, drug conspiracy, kidnapping conspiracy, firearms conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, use of juveniles to commit a violent crime, accessory after the fact, solicitation, as well as substantive money laundering, drug trafficking, and ITAR charges.

During Castillo-Chavez’ trial, said the FBI, jurors heard testimony from several Zeta hitmen who committed murders in Laredo, TX, as well as Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and Monterrey, and Nuevo Leon, in Mexico. In addition, said the agency, several defendants who testified as witnesses for the government detailed cocaine and marijuana trafficking from Mexico to Dallas, Texas, and New York City. Further testimony outlined murders and attempted murders committed by “sicario” (assassin) cells in Laredo between June 2005 and April 2006. The United States also presented telephone interceptions which described in detail the gruesome murders and disposal of the bodies of two U.S. citizens kidnapped and killed in Nuevo Laredo, said the agency.

Witnesses, including three co-defendants, tied Castillo-Chavez to the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas between November 2005 and May 2009. Their testimony also implicated him in the double murder of two men on April 2, 2006, the attempted murders of two others in March 2006 and in the grenade attack of a nightclub in Monterrey, Mexico, where four people were killed.

Of those originally charged in relation to the case, 14 have now been convicted, with some already receiving significant sentences, such as 40 years, 60 years and one life sentence, said the FBI. Five others are still pending sentencing. In addition, four others have also been convicted in separate indictments resulting from the same investigation.

Castillo-Chavez faces life imprisonment and a $4 million fine for the drug conspiracy conviction and an additional $250,000 fine, a maximum of 20 years for each of the ITAR charges, up to life for the firearms charges and a fine of $250,000 relating to the same attempted murders. He will remain in custody and is scheduled for sentencing in April.

The case against Castillo-Chavez was a result of a multi-agency investigation dubbed “Operation Prophecy” under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that was spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Laredo Police Department with help from Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Border Patrol, U.S. Marshals Service, Webb County Sheriff’s Office, and the Webb County District Attorney’s Office. The investigation targeted various cells of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas with a primary focus on the sicario cells that carried out executions of targeted rival drug members on both sides of the border.