MISSION, Texas — A fully operational criminal organization connected to the Gulf Cartel in Mexico has been taken down by local and state authorities near the border. The group had been operating on the American side of the border using underage teenagers to smuggle humans using stolen vehicles.
The culmination of the take down known as Operation Lockdown took place earlier this week when, as Breitbart Texas previously reported, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Deputies tried to arrest a man who had been identified as a high profile fugitive with cartel ties.
The fugitive who has since been identified as 24-year-old Santos “El Cuate or El Chaparro” Cortez Hernandez was armed at the time. He forced two sheriff’s deputies to fire their weapons during the arrest, said Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra to Breitbart Texas.
“He was always armed and he had made comments in the past that he wouldn’t go down easy,” Guerra said.
The criminal group had drawn the attention of law enforcement in mid to late 2014 with a series of car thefts in the border city of McAllen and other surrounding communities. The well-coordinated group was included a number of underage teens who were led by Cortez Hernandez who would use some of the stolen vehicles to smuggle illegal aliens on the western side of the county, Guerra said.
“He would recruit them using money, prostitutes, drugs and whatever else they wanted to get them to commit these criminal acts,” the sheriff said.
The group’s operations were hurt late last year when the Texas Department of Public Safety kicked off Operation Strong Safety and flooded the Rio Grande Valley with troopers, Guerra said.
As Breitbart Texas had previously reported exclusively, the added number of law enforcement agents in the area slowed down the groups ability to move illegal aliens north. This forced them to resort to house burglaries to keep the money coming in.
As part of the investigation into the case, authorities were able to link the group to a series of home burglaries in the northern part of the county in addition to the other cases that included human smuggling, car thefts, home invasions, aggravated robberies, drug trafficking, and even attempted capital murder.
As part of the long-term investigation authorities ended up arresting close to 30 adults and teenagers who were members of the group. They were charged with a variety of crimes including car theft, human smuggling, drug trafficking, burglary, and attempted capital murder.
Law enforcement officials confirmed to Breitbart Texas that Cortez Hernandez, while not a leading cartel figure in Mexico, was, in fact, connected to Mexican drug cartels.
“In this area and with this type of crime there’s always a connection, it’s just a matter of degrees of separation,” said McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez during a news conference about the case. “The short answer yes.”
Breitbart Texas travelled to the border city of La Joya to speak with a number of residents about the human smuggling activity carried out by teenagers. While some of the residents didn’t wish to be named they did confirm that the teens would openly brag about working for “El Cartel” by stealing vehicles and taking them to Mexico. The teens would be paid in cash for stealing four door pickup trucks and at times special order luxury vehicles that a particular cartel boss wanted.