Former Mexican law enforcement official guilty of trafficking fentanyl

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A former Mexican law enforcement official living in Brownsville was convicted last week for smuggling fentanyl, heroin and cocaine into the United States.

In a news release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said a federal jury on Friday took just three hours to convict Gilberto Almaraz-Muniz, 55, on a count of conspiracy and three counts of possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances following a five-day trial.

The investigation began following a March 10, 2022 narcotics seizure in Kleberg County.

“At that time, authorities arrested co-conspirator Pedro Venegas Jr., 24, (of) Brownsville,” the release stated. “Once law enforcement noticed tampering within the engine, they took his truck to a secure location to remove the engine’s manifold and other components.”

Investigators then found 23 bundles of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

“The truck’s 6-cylinder engine had modifications to appear as an 8-cylinder to keep the drugs hidden within those areas,” the release stated.

Federal prosecutors also presented evidence showing that Jetzrael Saldana, 25, of Brownsville, was a co-conspirator who recruited Venegas as a driver on Almaraz’s behalf.

“At trial, witnesses testified that Almaraz-Muniz would ask Saldana to recruit drivers to take drug loads past the immigration checkpoint for distribution in Houston and other areas,” the release stated. “Almaraz would then arrange for the vehicles to be titled in the drivers’ names and have them do ‘dry runs’ crossing the port of entry several times before hiding drugs within the vehicle.”

Jurors also hear about two other drug seizures organized by Almaraz, including the seizure of nearly 183 pounds of liquid methamphetamine at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville on July 17, 2022 and the seizure of nearly 53 pounds of black tar heroin in Robstown on Sept. 26, 2022.

Alamdar S. Hamdani, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said the case removed approximately 220 pounds of narcotics from the streets.

“My office will continue to prosecute not only those individuals caught transporting dangerous drugs but also those that provide and involve others in the illicit drug trade.”

Venegas and Saldana previously pleaded guilty and are scheduled for sentencing in May.

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera, who presided over the trial, scheduled Almaraz’s sentencing for July 17.

He faces up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million, according to the release.

Almaraz remains in federal custody.