Gov’t begins case against masterminds of drug ripping crew

Testimony: Men stole 18-wheeler believing money was stashed inside

McALLEN — The trial of two men who allegedly led a drug ripping crew in carjackings and home invasions is underway.

After jurors were selected, the trial began for Jose ‘El Mickey” Miguel Montemayor and Marin “Filtro” Macrin Cerda, who are accused of running a drug ripping crew that committed violent carjackings and home invasions in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Cerda faces 19 counts against him, including multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, carjacking and violent crime involving drugs and machine guns, while Montemayor faces 13 similar charges.

Montemayor, of Mission, and Cerda, a Mexican national, and about 20 others, were indicted in October 2017 in connection with a drug conspiracy case.

The two men allegedly led a drug ripping crew called “Los Mikis” who committed a series of home invasions and carjackings as part of a wider conspiracy to traffick drugs.

Montemayor and Cerda are accused of leading the group, which participated in violent carjackings and other thefts involving drugs as an associate group of the Gulf Cartel drug trafficking organization.

The group terrorized the Rio Grande Valley for nearly a year, between July 2016 and June 2017, the court document states.

Montemayor is represented by Brownsville-based attorney Carlos Noel Monarrez, while Cerda is represented by Weslaco-based attorney Juan E. Gonzalez.

In its opening statement, federal prosecutor, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr. said the government would prove through evidence the two men were responsible for the group’s criminal activities.

During day one of testimony, the government called six witnesses, most law enforcement officers from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office who worked a carjacking of an 18-wheel tractor trailer on July 7, 2016, that the government alleges was planned by Cerda.

The victim in that case, Ricky Garcia, a Mission truck driver who was also a co-worker of Cerda’s, also testified during the trial’s first day.

Garcia recounted the morning of July 7, 2016 to jurors, when several unknown and armed men stormed his mobile home in the 16000 block of Citrus Road in rural Mission, and demanded the keys to the aforementioned tractor.

Garcia testified that just the day before, he had communicated with Cerda via Facebook about the tractor. He said that Cerda offered to exchange a Chrysler 300 vehicle for the tractor trailer, with Cerda conveying to him that he believed there was money stored in a hidden compartment.

Days prior, Garcia was paid to recover the trailer from an unknown parking lot in Pennsylvania by the owners of a trucking company, after the tractor was abandoned as a result of an unrelated federal investigation into the company.

Garcia said he did not see Cerda during the theft of the trailer, but instead recognized Cerda’s brother, Miguel Cerda from a picture on Facebook. He claimed all of the men, except for Miguel Cerda, had covered their faces.

Garcia’s step son also testified Monday, taking jurors through the harrowing moments when the men stormed the mobile home and demanded the keys to the tractor.

He said the men, one carrying a high-capacity rifle, and the others with pistols, broke down the door to the mobile home and demanded the keys to the tractor. Garcia’s step son also said the men told him, and his younger brother, not to look at them or they would come back and shoot them.

Former Hidalgo County bailiff, Oscar De La Cruz and former Donna ISD police officers Juan Fernando Mata, Juan Antonio “Paisa” Flores, Francisco Javier Montemayor, Marlyn Gonzalez, Arturo Vargas, Jorge Antonio Calvo-Ayala, Danny Cano, Miguel Marin Cerda, Alfredo Avalos-Sanchez and Moises Delevi have all been sentenced in connection with the case.

Still pending sentencing are the nine remaining defendants, including Sergio “Tovey” Alejandro Gallegos, who is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 25. Cesar Alejandro Tovar-Guillén, Robert Lee Rodriguez, Jose Garcia-De La Torre, Gustavo Angel De Leon-Covarrubias, Carlos Guadalupe Aquino-Pacheco, Antonio Javier Gomez and Jose Arturo Reyes-Sanchez are scheduled for sentencing Oct 22., while Marcos Antonio Villarreal is set to be sentenced Nov. 20, court records show.

Some of the aforementioned co-conspirators could be called to testify during the trial, which is expected to take up to a month to complete.

In addition to Lopez, the government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alejandra Andrade.

Day 2 of testimony begins promptly Tuesday morning. The government is expected to call many more law enforcement officials, and potentially some of the aforementioned co-conspirators in the case.

The men each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of their charges.