Starr drug conspiracy suspects plead not guilty

The roles of some of those arrested in Starr County last week on a drug conspiracy charge were defined Tuesday during the second day of arraignment and detention hearings held virtually at the Mcallen federal courthouse.

Geronimo Morin, Noel Avila, Samuel Torres, Janella Chavarria, David Gomez, Hugo Alberto Canales, and Roosevelt Vela appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker, although the arraignment and detention hearings for Canales and Vela were ultimately rescheduled.

All defendants entered a not guilty plea during their arraignments, just like the other defendants did Monday.

Fourteen people are named in a 10-count indictment that alleges the defendants were involved in a drug conspiracy that moved narcotics — marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine — on eight different occasions starting July 2020 through August.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jongwoo Chung explained the government was opposed to releasing Janella Chavarria, Samuel Torres and Noel Avila on bond.

Multiple wiretaps suggest Chavarria acted as a scout, calling out the position of law enforcement and coordinating the smuggling route during one of the events outlined in the indictments, but Chung added they suspect she played a bigger part of the conspiracy.

Other information they collected also indicates Chavarria deals crack cocaine, the government attorney said. They were opposed to releasing her to her mother, who lives with a man convicted for dealing drugs.

Torres reportedly admitted in a post-arrest interview he spent time with Diego Alberto Reyes Roiz, a co-defendant, and some of that was in Mexico to help coordinate drug loads which were spelled out in the indictment as an event registered on March 4, when about 3.75 kilograms of cocaine were seized.

Avila’s role was not further defined, but Chung said his own wife considers him a danger to the community and does not want Avila to be sent back to their residence if released on bond.

Avila’s attorney, Santos Maldonado, disputed the wife’s characterization, who, Maldonado noted, has been married to Avila for 31 years; though, Avila appears to live in a shed on their property.

The government did not oppose the release on bond for Morin or Gomez.

Morin is suspected of packaging marijuana for distribution, but Chung requested the judge consider carefully which address he’s allowed to reside at if he is released on bond.

The government attorney said one of the residences proposed to house him after his release is considered to be a stash house in Rio Grande City. Chung said they’re recommending home detention and active GPS monitoring.

Gomez was suspected of transporting marijuana in a flatbed truck to further distribute the drugs, but the government attorney said they want to ensure he returns for his court day with active GPS monitoring and a stable residence upon release.

Judge Hacker only ruled on Gomez’s case and set a $100,000 bond that will require a $5,000 cash deposit and a suitable co-surety.

All defendants were remanded to federal custody until the judge reaches a bond determination.

Two defendants are pending their arraignment and detention hearings Wednesday.