McALLEN — Searching for answers, the Texas Civil Rights Project and Cine El Rey foundation have sent letters to the Department of Justice requesting an investigation into a raid last month at the downtown theater where authorities were looking for a Gulf Cartel boss who moonlights as a wrestler.
The letter comes almost a month after federal, state and local law enforcement officials blockaded the city’s downtown district as they went around the theater looking for the narco-wrestler, even though they didn’t have a warrant on hand.
The FBI, which was the lead agency in the operation, never disclosed who they were pursuing April 7.
But four law enforcement agents from the U.S. and Mexico said the target of the operation was a man named Roman “Comandante Simple” Leal, a Gulf Cartel regional boss from Reynosa who has been know to moonlight as a luchador, or Mexican-style wrestler. The narco-wrestler was believed to have been with his brother Guadalupe “Comandante Tachas” Leal, another ranking drug lord who has been the topic of narco corrido songs.
Soon after the raid, FBI spokesman Erik Vasys confirmed that the person they were looking for was not at the scene.
On Friday afternoon, the FBI issued a statement in response to the letter, saying the bureau plans and executes its operations keeping in mind the public’s safety, as well as that of their agents at all times.
“The allegations made in this document have been forwarded to appropriate authorities to investigate its merit and make the appropriate determinations,” the statement reads.
The large police force deployed to the raid, which included a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter, was enough to put an adult on edge, said Bert Guerra, head of the Cine El Rey Foundation.
“How do you explain that to a kid?” Guerra said. “The first thing they saw was eight FBI agents with semi-automatic weapons at the door. Those kids were scared. To make it worse, when they looked to mom and dad, well, they were scared too. You can’t take that away. That is something that these children will never forget.”
While FBI agents were looking for the suspects, the FBI called McAllen police for support because they believed that the cartel gunmen were barricaded inside the building. A copy of a McAllen police incident report shows that FBI and DPS had said there were two cartel members inside who were considered armed and dangerous.
McAllenpolice officers at the scene were told that the two suspects were known to carry assault rifles and grenades, the document shows.
The police SWAT team entered the building to detain seven men who had barricaded themselves and turned them over to the FBI. The men were in fact six luchadores and a referee who spent several hours facing questions by the FBI and prior to their release.
The raid appears to have been a case of mistaken identity, where authorities mistook Leal’s wrestling nickname — Imagen — for a different wrestler who uses a similar name.
The event featured a Reynosa wrestler named Imagen 2 who came from a family of wrestlers and had taken the name to honor his late brother, also named Imagen.
The Monitor previously interviewed Imagen 2, who claimed to have no connection with the drug boss who uses a similar name and said the similarities had brought him plenty of headaches, but he refuses to change it since he has wrestled in that persona for 20 years.
A check with two wrestling promoters turned up five local wrestlers with Imagen as part of their name.
While the FBI confirmed that the man they wanted was not at the venue, it appears that Leal might not even have been in theU.S.at the time of the raid. Guadalupe “Lupillo” Leal has been in and out of medical facilities in Reynosa as he recovers from unknown injuries sustained during a series of firefights in March, said a Tamaulipas law enforcement official who asked to not be named, citing security reasons.
After weeks of silence from authorities after the failed raid, the Cine El Rey Foundation and Texas Civil Rights Project joined forces to find answers, Guerra said.
“We’re concerned the danger that the citizens were put in by this action,” said Joseph Martin, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It appears that this action was taken with minimal planning, and exhibited a reckless disregard for citizen safety. The FBI has been less than forthcoming about its actions and has given contradictory reasons for them.”
Initially, the FBI had told local media outlets that the raid dealt with an immigration violation, later saying it involved a search for a fugitive. That differs from the story the FBI told McAllen police, where agents said they were looking to detain two cartel members with no further information being released after that, Martin said.
The quest for the elusive cartel member reminded Guerra of the many false Elvis sightings reported around the country over the years.
But the false sighting of an apparent cartel member has shed a bad light on the theater, Guerra said.
“If somebody had done their research a little better I believe that this could have been avoided,” he said. “I don’t like to criticize our government, but this historic venue that we have worked hard to preserve is in jeopardy.”
Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts, law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com, (956) 683-4437 or on Twitter, @ildefonsoortiz.