Sentencing set for head of Venezuelan crime group

The head of an international criminal organization is scheduled to be sentenced Monday, records show.

Tirso Antonio Meleán-Castellano pleaded guilty last December to a federal firearm charge in connection with his March 2018 arrest in McAllen.

During a re-arraignment hearing before U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa on Dec. 10, 2018, Meleán-Castellano pleaded true to one of two counts of unlawful transport of firearms, records show.

In exchange, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the second firearms charge at the time of his sentencing, now set for Monday.

The complaint against the 29-year-old man accuses him of being in the U.S. without legal authorization, and subsequently charged him with firearms charges after federal agents discovered two guns — one Pietro Beretta .9mm pistol and a .40 caliber pistol — and nearly 250 rounds of “assorted” ammunition in an apartment in the 400 block of South G Street in McAllen where he was residing.

The arrest of the man on March 14, 2018, took place at a restaurant in McAllen.

On that day, federal authorities arrested Meleán-Castellano outside a steakhouse restaurant in the 2100 block of 10th Street, only blocks away from where he was residing.

According to multiple Venezuelan news reports, Meleán-Castellano and his brother took over control of a criminal organization, known as Los Meleán, previously headed by their father, Antonio Meleán.

Antonio Meleán, who died during an encounter with Venezuelan authorities more than 10 years ago, left the organization to Tirso.

The organization has been linked to be involved in hundreds of murders, theft and theft of vehicles, extortion, contraband and drug trafficking, in the Andean region in Venezuela, and expanding to Colombia and Panama.

According to the website for Venezuela’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the younger Meleán-Castellano is considered one of the most wanted men in the country for his connection with the criminal organization.

The alleged crimes in his home country were so severe that resulted in Venezuela requesting that Interpol place Meleán-Castellano on its international alert, specifically on its “Red Notice” alert, “the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today,” according to Interpol’s website.

The Venezuelen national was originally scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 13, 2019, but multiple continuances have caused the sentencing to be pushed back to the present date.

In May, his Jacksonville-based attorney, Jose Debs-Elias, withdrew from representing Meleán-Castellano. Records show he is being represented by Edinburg-based attorney Jose A. Solis.

Representing the government in the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney David A. Lindemuth.