Starr County justice of the peace among 19 arrested in DEA bust

Justice of the Peace Roel Valadez at a raid on his home Sept. 15, 2021. (Monitor Photo)

A Starr County justice of the peace was one of 19 arrested in a multi-agency operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration early Wednesday morning.

Starr County operation, Sept. 15, 2021. (Monitor Photo)

Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Roel Valadez was arrested shortly after 6 a.m. at his Santa Leah Drive residence in Rio Grande City, according to Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Sanchez. 

Dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts, the justice was seen walking in handcuffs with federal agents toward the back of his home. 

A caravan of over 150 federal, state and local law enforcement officers executed a series of search warrants early in Starr County, but other arrests were made in McAllen, Austin, and some were made in Laredo on Tuesday night.

Sanchez said the 19 people arrested were indicted earlier this month on a drug-related conspiracy.

The initial investigation started June 2020. The indictment is still under seal, but Sanchez said more arrests are anticipated in the ongoing investigation.

About 20 different agencies participated, including the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations. 

Agents arrived at target locations around 6 a.m. At two homes, flash-bang grenades startled neighbors just south of Eisenhower Road in Rio Grande City. 

Multiple assets, including a vehicle from the neighborhood off of Eisenhower Road, were taken in Wednesday’s organization.

Agents seized 19 guns, seven vehicles, currency at one location and narcotics at another location. The total may change later in the day, Sanchez said. 

So far, the investigation since 2020 netted a seizure of over 300 kilograms of methamphetamine, close to 3,000 kilograms of marijuana and about $100,000 in U.S. currency, and 1 kilogram of fentanyl. It’s unclear where those seizures occurred. 

The indictment is expected to be unsealed after the defendants have their initial appearance before a federal judge on Thursday.

The defendants who were arrested in Laredo were transported to McAllen for their hearing. Those in Austin will have their initial appearance in the Western District of Texas before they are eventually moved to join the other defendants in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Sanchez.