Woman to serve 8 years for drug ring role

McALLEN — A former Mexican police officer was sentenced Friday to more than eight years in federal prison for leading an international drug smuggling and money laundering ring.

Maria Antonietta “La Tony” Rodriguez Mata pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of conspiracy related to hundreds of pounds of narcotics shipments from northern Mexico to New York.

Authorities believe Rodriguez, who once served as an investigator with the Tamaulipas state police, also worked as one of the top traffickers for the Gulf Cartel in the late ’90s and early years of this decade.

“She certainly was a significant figure,” said Will Glaspy, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s McAllen office. “It was unusual for a woman to rise to her level within a drug trafficking organization.”

A federal grand jury originally indicted Rodriguez in 2000 on six counts of drug trafficking, conspiracy and money laundering for more than 100 pounds of marijuana and more than 160 pounds of cocaine she admitted to sending between March and December of that year. During that time, DEA agents also determined she got nearly $200,000 in laundered money for the shipments.

But soon after her arrest by Mexican authorities in Monterrey in 2004, the administration of former Mexican president Vicente Fox reported that her organization was responsible for moving five tons of Guatemalan cocaine into Texas each year.

She was extradited to face charges in the United States in August 2007.

During a court hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa sentenced Rodriguez to 102 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

But with credit for time she has already served in Mexican and U.S. custody, she could be released within four years.

Eight other former members of her cell are already serving sentences ranging from probation to more than 11 years in prison.

Rodriguez is only the latest aging former Gulf Cartel operative to face justice in the United States.

Earlier this year, Carlos Landín Martinez, the former second-in-command of the cartel’s operations in Reynosa, received a life sentence in federal court in McAllen after being arrested while shopping for watermelon at a McAllen H.E.B. store.

The portly 53-year-old’s tenure with the Tamaulipas state police also overlapped with Rodriguez’s time on the force.

Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the purported former head of the Mexican drug juggernaut, is also in U.S. custody and is currently set to go to trial in Houston next year.

His arrest in Matamoros in 2003 launched a series of changes within the criminal organization that have bolstered its control over the northeastern Mexican border.

The organization is now the primary target of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s two-year campaign to crush drug trafficking organizations within his country.

Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.