RGC father, son plead guilty to drug charges

The federal courthouse at Bentsen Tower, located on Bicentennial Boulevard in McAllen, is seen in this August 2018 file photo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Two Rio Grande City men pleaded guilty on Monday to smuggling massive amounts of drugs using racehorses, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas.

Raul Beltran Jr., 50, and his son Edward Beltran, 24, both of Rio Grande City, stood before U.S. District Judge John Rainey in a Victoria federal court and entered guilty pleas, admitting to smuggling “massive amounts” of drugs, including thousands of kilos of marijuana.

Federal agents began an investigation into the father-son duo more than six years ago, when in January 2013 Victoria County Sheriff’s officials seized about 600 pounds of marijuana hidden within a horse trailer, which also was hauling two racehorses, the release stated.

“That event prompted a lengthy, multiple-agency, multi-jurisdictional investigation that would ultimately uncover information and evidence demonstrating the illegal activities of the Beltran drug trafficking organization,” the release stated. “The Beltrans used their horse ranches in Rio Grande City to receive, repackage and conceal thousands of kilograms of marijuana in horse trailers, flatbed trailers and tractor trailers to ship the marijuana to all points north. They used the sport of horse racing to facilitate drug smuggling and to launder illicit proceeds.”

The release goes on to state that the Beltrans negotiated with several drug and criminal enterprises, including Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

“The organization also utilized violence, intimidation, bribery and public corruption to facilitate and perpetuate their illicit activities for nearly a decade with virtual impunity. The investigation demonstrated the organization’s dealings with ranking members of the Gulf and Zeta Cartels, Starr County Chicano Brotherhood, as well as the involvement of multiple corrupt sworn peace officers assigned in the Rio Grande Valley,” the release stated.

Among them was Ramon De La Cruz Jr., a former investigator with the Rio Grande City Police Department, who was indicted in September 2016 for allegedly conspiring with the Beltrans by staging drug seizures and providing official police information and equipment, such as radios that had functioning active police frequencies, in order to evade law enforcement.

In April 2017, De La Cruz pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. However, his sentencing has since been rescheduled several times. It is currently set for April 3.

As a result of the investigation, more than 20 people have now been convicted.

“In addition, authorities have seized three horse ranches as well as an American Quarter Horse race stallion named Jet Black Patriot and his breeding proceeds and awards,” the release read.

Both men, who will remain on bond pending their sentencing hearing set for June 3, face up to life in prison and a possible $10 million maximum fine.