Starr County suspected drug trafficker’s wife arrested

The wife of a Rio Grande City man accused of drug trafficking was arrested Friday and made her initial appearance in federal court Monday morning.

Julisa Peña, 32, was arrested Friday and charged for her role in using up to $110,000 derived from drug trafficking.

Peña took the stand last year during the detention hearing for her husband, Evaristo Sepulveda, after he was arrested on drug trafficking charges in January 2020.

During that detention hearing held Feb. 11, 2020, Peña admitted paying off their Rio Grande City home valued at $200,000 in cash payments over a period of two years.

“It took us a long time to build our house. It took us about two years,” Peña said under questioning by U.S. Attorney Patricia Profit.

The criminal complaint unsealed Monday morning revealed the house on 27 Midway Road was paid for in cash payments totaling $184,480 from March 2017 to June 2018.

“The payments were generated from Evaristo Sepulveda’s involvement in illegal drug trafficking and the sale of illegal drugs,” the complaint read.

At the time, the couple was also receiving about $300 a month in government food stamps.

Peña’s husband of 10 years, Evaristo Sepulveda, was arrested in January 2020 in relation to a smuggling event involving 320 kilograms of cocaine moved through Starr County the previous year.

On Jan. 17, 2019, he was seen near the property on Midway Road where his brother, Daniel Sepulveda, was seen driving bundles of cocaine on an ATV, according to the testimony offered at the detention hearing by DEA Case Agent Christopher Donahue.

One of the bundles was found close to Evaristo Sepulveda; though, when agents found him, he was holding a bag of corn and claimed to be there to feed the livestock.

After Evaristo Sepulveda’s brother was arrested, Peña said she was nervous about the IRS looking into their house payment history, according to the complaint.

“They’re going to be like how the (expletive) did you make a house? With no money?” she communicated over WhatsApp to her husband on Feb. 19, 2019.

Their reported earnings did not add up after prosecutors collected their tax records. Their combined earnings for 2017 and 2018 amounted to $77,453.

When the builder was interviewed, he said the payments were made using rolled up cash held together with rubber bands and stuffed into plastic shopping bags. The builder said he did not see any paperwork indicating bank withdrawals.

The criminal complaint also lists dates when Peña helped her husband perform surveillance — like when she texted him “chopper passing hospital road” on Feb. 23, 2017 — or when she was updated about his criminal activity — including the time Sepulveda sent her selfies with drug bundles in the background on Jan. 26, 2017.

Both brothers and eventually a third one, Rene Sepulveda, along with three other men — brothers Juan Indalecio and Jose Luis Garcia, whose father owned the property in question — and Edgar Yvan Moreno Barragan were indicted on related charges.

Their trial is still pending.

Peña went before a federal judge Monday for her initial hearing. Her detention hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.