Suspected ‘leader’ of human smuggling group arrested in attempted murder case

Deputies with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office have arrested a sixth man in connection with an attempted murder and car chase that began in Lopezville and ended in Edinburg last Friday.

Jose Mario Cardenas, 29, was arraigned Thursday for attempted murder and engaging in organized criminal activity, a first degree felony.

He also faces related charges from the Texas Department of Public Safety and Mission police, including smuggling of persons, evading arrest, assault of a public servant, theft and failure to identify, and remains in custody pending a total $142,000 bond.

Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra called Cardenas the leader of the human smuggling group, many of whom were involved in the weekend shooting.

“We believe that he is the leader of the organized smuggling criminal enterprise,” Guerra said Thursday.

According to the sheriff, some members of the group apparently turned on each other in an attempt to retain more of the smuggling profits for themselves.

“They were involved in trying to rip off monetary proceeds from a gang of criminal enterprise, which in this case, was human smuggling,” Guerra said earlier this week.

As two men sat in a pickup truck off Minnesota Road in Lopezville, they were approached by a third, who began to shoot. The passenger of the truck, Jesus Guadalupe Mares, sustained non-life threatening injuries after bullets struck him in the right arm and the left side of his face.

The men fled the scene and were chased by two vehicles until the driver of the truck crashed near Canton Road and Raul Longoria in Edinburg.

Five men were arrested the day after the shooting, including: Jose Anaya, 22; Jesus Martinez, 28; Victor Alejandro Ramirez, 21; Jesus Javier Solis, 37; and Yamil Garza Villarreal, 32.

But Guerra said investigators were still piecing together what happened that day and that more arrests were expected.

A man and a woman seen in surveillance footage being forced into one of the cars used in the chase — and who investigators initially thought had been kidnapped — have instead been identified as human trafficking victims, the sheriff said.

“Those victims were not actually kidnapped, they were actually undocumented aliens that were paying the smuggling organizations to smuggle them,” Guerra said, adding that the smugglers had been transporting people from the Rio Grande Valley to the Houston area.

The unnamed Central American woman was in a vehicle with Cardenas when DPS attempted to conduct a traffic stop Wednesday. “He (Cardenas) got into a pursuit with DPS,” Guerra said.

Later, during an attempt to flee on foot, the sheriff said Cardenas assaulted an officer.

Though six arrests have now been made in the case, Guerra said the investigation remains ongoing and that more arrests are expected. He thanked state and federal law enforcement agencies for their assistance in the investigation.

Guerra said the interagency collaboration has reduced the prevalence of such criminal activity. “Ourselves, along with all our state and federal partners, are doing a good job of identifying and arresting these individuals,” he said.

“These types of crime occurred more frequently than we’re seeing today.”

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Five in custody for attempted murder