Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Son of Gulf Cartel boss arrested in ammo-smuggling case

The son of one of the biggest Mexican drug lords to ever face justice in the United States has been arrested for allegedly trying to sneak military-grade ammunition south of the border.

Osiel Cardenas Jr., known as "Mini Osiel," appeared before a federal magistrate in Brownsville this week following his arrest by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

He is charged with attempting to smuggle almost 500 rifle bullets and "tactical weapons gear" in his black 2015 Cadillac Escalade. He was allegedly driving the luxury sport utility vehicle toward an international bridge that spans the Rio Grande and connects Brownsville with the Mexican city of Matamoros when he was stopped by the U.S. officers spot-checking traffic leaving the country, according to an affidavit filed in federal court to support his arrest.

Cardenas, who is a U.S. citizen, admitted that he knew about the bullets and that he was trying to smuggle them into Mexico, contends the federal agent who signed the affidavit.

Most ammunition and firearms are illegal for civilians in Mexico, but they are prized by organized-crime groups there who for years have been battling each other and government security forces. Texas, with its high concentration of gun stores, has been described by U.S. federal authorities as a steady ready source of Mexico's illegal weaponry.

His father, Osiel Cardenas, 47, was convicted in Houston in 2009 on an array of drug trafficking and money laundering charges in connection with being the chief leader of the Gulf Cartel. He is locked up in the so-called Supermax prison in Colorado, which is also home to such inmates as "Unabomber" Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols.

The younger Cardenas now faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted, but would likely get far less time than that.

His lawyer, who also represented his father, did not respond to a request for comment. His next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday, when Magistrate Judge Ignacio Torteya III is to decide if Cardenas should be temporarily released on bail pending trial.

His arrest marks perhaps the first time his name has been made public in connection with an international crime, but he is known by U.S. law enforcement officers to be trying to follow in this father's footsteps, said Mike Vigil, retired chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"He is what is referred to in Mexico as a narco junior," said Vigil, who is the author of "DEAL," a memoir of his 31-year career with the agency. "He has enlisted other narco juniors," as the adult children of drug traffickers are known,"to go along with him, and he loves to emulate his father," Vigil said. "He likes to drive around Matamoros and that area with an entourage like his father used to do."

The younger man's cousin, Rafael Cardenas, 41, was convicted in 2012 in Brownsville for being one of the cartel's new leaders and got 20 years. Osiel Cardenas Jr.'s uncle, Antonio Cardenas, was killed in 2010 a gun battle with the Mexican military.

The ammunition seized Friday in Brownsville is just a drop compared to the 26,157 rounds of ammunition seized last year in South Texas by Customs and Border Protection. "A lot of that is military grade ammunition," Vigil said. "He was certainly not taking that ammunition back to hunt deer or elk, but human beings."

Thanks to Dane Schiller.

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