2 more sentenced in local ‘rip crews’ case

McALLEN — A federal judge here sentenced two more defendants involved in several “rips” of other drug traffickers during home invasions and carjackings, according to a news release issued Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez on Tuesday sentenced Mission residents Miguel Marin Cerda, 31, and Alfredo Avalos-Sanchez, 27, to 130 months and 87 months in federal prison, respectively, for their roles in a March 2017 carjacking and a home invasion in June of that year, according to records.

“In considering their violent crimes, Judge Alvarez stated the events forming the charges are incidents that have come to be expected in Mexico and other Central American countries which do not allow residents to feel safe,” the release read.

The defense argued on behalf of their clients that Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez’s actions were mistakes, but the court agreed with government prosecutors that these were intentional profit-driven actions.

“They continued to engage in conduct even after prior arrests for similar conduct and close calls with life and death events,” the release read. “Such instances included violent crimes involving totaled vehicles and multiple discharges of firearms which could have taken lives.”

Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez were involved in a carjacking March 12, 2017, in McAllen, in which the pair and their co-defendants stole — by force — a vehicle believed to be carrying drugs.

In another instance in April 2017, the two men fired their weapons inside a residential neighborhood in an attempt to steal about 14 kilos of cocaine from within two vehicles.

Cerda pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge in January 2018, while Avalos-Sanchez, pleaded guilty to a single count of interference with commerce by threat or violence in December 2017, court records show.

In addition to Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez, several other defendants, including a former law enforcement officer and an officer of the court, have been sentenced or are pending their sentencing hearings in connection with this case.

Judge Alvarez sentenced Juan Fernandez Mata, a former Donna ISD police officer, in late April to more than 11 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy, court records show.

According to the indictment against Mata and several others, he allegedly participated in a conspiracy to move 5 or more kilos of cocaine between Jan. 14, 2016 and Feb. 5, 2018, court documents show.

The Donna native was also involved in a conspiracy to move more than 200 pounds of marijuana between May 10 and June 6, 2017, the charge to which he pleaded guilty earlier this year, records show.

Ties to Los Mikis case

According to a news release from the USAO Southern District of Texas, Mata assisted members of the “drug rip” crew named “Los Mikis” by conducting fake traffic stops on drug load vehicles to steal the drugs.

“Specifically, the court considered Mata’s role in conducting traffic stops in January 2016 and another in May 2017, to assist members in stealing approximately nine kilograms of cocaine and approximately 400 pounds of marijuana, respectfully,” the release stated.

In June, Alvarez also sentenced former Hidalgo County court bailiff Oscar De La Cruz to five years in prison for his role in the conspiracy.

De La Cruz entered a plea agreement with government prosecutors in January that allowed him to avoid a federal jury trial.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining charges at the time of his sentencing.

De La Cruz, who was facing several federal charges including drug conspiracy, drug importation and federal forgery charges, was originally indicted in early May 2018 on similar charges — specifically drug conspiracy. He was included in a superseding indictment involving multiple defendants less than a month later and was also charged with forgery.

The 53-year-old Pharr native was accused of playing a role in the movement of cocaine in conjunction with an unnamed drug trafficking organization between Jan. 14, 2016, to about Feb. 5, 2018, court documents show.

Jorge Antonio Calvo-Ayala, 25, of Pharr pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. Alvarez, according to court notes, sentenced him in May 2018 to 95 months in prison.

In addition to Calvo-Ayala’s conviction, Danny Cano, 30, Marylyn Gonzalez, 39, and Arturo “Petu” (or “Cholo”) Vargas, 35, all of Mission, were sentenced in August and October 2018, respectively, in connection with the conspiracy.

Others who have also pleaded guilty in the conspiracy and are pending sentencing include Roberto Lee Rodriguez, aka “El Tio” or “Pica,” 39, and Sergio Alejandro Gallegos, aka “Tovy,” both of Mission.

Mexican nationals who’ve also entered guilty pleas include: Jose Garcia-De La Torre, aka “Coco,” 22; Carlos Guadalupe Aquino-Pacheco, aka “Tomy,” 20; Gustavo Angel DeLeon-Covarrubias, aka “Tripa,” 19; Jose Arturo Reyes-Sanchez, aka “Gordo,” 19; and Cesar Alejandro Tovar-Guillen, aka “Nucho” or “El Sobrino,” 31.

Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez, who were in the country illegally, will likely be deported upon completion of their respective prison terms.