Three convicted for $500,000 Mexican cartel weapon scheme

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

LAREDO, Texas – Three individuals have admitted to their roles in a conspiracy for Cartel del Noreste (CDN), announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.  

Luis Ramos, 44, Rio Bravo, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit international money laundering. Co-conspirators Manuel Perez-Ortiz, 40, Mexico, and Arturo Mata Jr., 55, also of Rio Bravo, pleaded guilty for their roles in the same conspiracy April 28.

In May 2020, members of CDN began negotiations to purchase $500,000 worth of high-powered weapons including machine guns, grenades, military-style rifles and rocket-propelled launchers. The weapons were intended to be purchased in the United States and then smuggled into Mexico. CDN planned to use them in fights against rival cartels to further their drug smuggling activities. Cartel members sent Perez-Ortiz to conduct the weapon exchange in Laredo.

On June 19, 2020, Ramos and Perez-Ortiz met with whom they thought were U.S.-based weapon facilitators at an H-E-B parking lot. There, they showed the money they had to purchase the weapons. Authorities stopped Ramos and Perez-Ortiz after they departed the parking lot. Law enforcement discovered a cardboard box inside the vehicle containing $500,000 in cash and a firearm in Perez-Ortiz’s possession.

Ramos and Mata assisted in driving Perez-Ortiz to and from the meetings to discuss the sale of weapons. Mata also provided surveillance.

As part of their pleas, Ramos and Perez-Ortiz admitted they concocted a story to tell authorities that the money came from the sale of a ranch in Mexico and they were planning to buy land in Laredo to build a home. Perez-Ortiz later admitted he had illegally crossed into the country the day before with $500,000 by wading the Rio Grande river.

All three co-conspirators are scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Diana Saldana in the near future. They each face up to 20 years in prison, a possible $1 million maximum fine and forfeiture of $500,000. They have been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.   

This case was part of the Blue Indigo Task Force and brought as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation dubbed Operation Noreste. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Laredo Police Department conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Marshals Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Day is prosecuting this case.

OCDETF is the largest anti-crime task force in the country. Its mission is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found on the Department of Justice’s OCDETF webpage.