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Starr County smuggling attempt leads to 3 arrests

1 month 2 weeks 5 days ago Thursday, April 09 2020 Apr 9, 2020 April 09, 2020 11:00 AM April 09, 2020 in News - Local

Three men were charged in a drug smuggling event in Starr County that ended with a submerged car and over 1200 pounds of drugs in the river Tuesday evening.

Rene Sepulveda, 23, Joshua Islas, 27, both from Starr County and Jose Jesus Medina Anaya, a Mexican national, had a virtual initial appearance with U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker Thursday morning.

All three are suspected of being involved the smuggling of approximately 545 kilos of suspected marijuana.

Medina Anaya was driving a black GMC Envoy under federal surveillance on Tuesday. Agents noticed he drove to an area which has been described as a "cartel staging ground" by federal prosecutors in another case. Law enforcement noticed he was driving in a "circuitous and consistent with a narcotic load vehicle driver performing counter surveillance for law enforcement." Agents attempted to pull over the driver, but that led to a pursuit. Ultimately, Medina Anaya drove into the river and tried to swim away from agents. He was caught by agents. About 50 bundles of suspected marijuana were discovered in the partially-submerged vehicle.

During the smuggling incident, Sepulveda and Islas were at Outlaws' Cafe, a restaurant owned by Sepulveda and his wife. The business is at the intersection of Midway and Highway 83, a known scouting site for the Garcia drug trafficking organization in Rio Grande City. Agents stopped them when they noticed they were dressed in the same manner as two scouts seen earlier that day near the river. Their shoes were later discovered to leave the same impressions as those found where the GMC Envoy went into the river.

Sepulveda and Islas told agents who approached them in the field they were landscaping on a property near Midway as the smuggling event was happening. They even showed the agents a field that, according to the complaint, "did not appear to be a legitimate attempt to landscape the small property."

Medina Anaya admitted to agents after his arrest that he was working with Islas to coordinate the smuggling event. It was part of a deal to pay off his crossing fee as a Mexican national. Islas was providing directions on where to go to evade law enforcement.

Islas was arrested and similarly interrogated. He told agents his role was as a scout working for Sepulveda and he had been doing that for the last month. He was reportedly getting paid $500 to look out for law enforcement while drugs were being coordinated and smuggled through the Midway Road area in Rio Grande City. One of his primary scouting posts he identified to agents was Outlaws Cafe.

The drug trafficking activity is associated with the Garcia drug trafficking organization. Since the beginning of the year, federal agents have arrested three high-ranking members including Rene Sepulveda's brothers, Daniel and Evaristo. Another sibling, Luis Sepulveda, was also named in the federal complaint filed Thursday but no charges were filed against him.

Islas and Anaya Medina's financial records submitted to the court made them eligible for a court-appointed attorney. Rene Sepulveda's financial means did not allow for the court to appoint legal counsel, but he told the judge he would be hiring an attorney.

The attorney representing the government requested time to prepare for the detention hearing which was granted. The hearing was scheduled for next week. Due to the pandemic concerns, federal inmates are appearing via videoconferencing since Monday.

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