“MX” for Borderland Beat
|“He had a fairly high level position within the cartel,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit, who prosecuted the case.|
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Abiel Gonzalez Briones, who went by the nicknames “R-2” and “Tacua,” to 46 months in prison during a hearing last week.
Gonzalez-Briones was the Gulf Cartel plaza boss in Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas, just across the border from Roma, Texas. The federal police arrested Gonzalez-Briones and six Gulf Cartel associates in August 2011.
What happened to Gonzalez-Briones after his arrest in Mexico remains unclear. The United States government arrested him on decade-old drug trafficking charges in January 2020.
“He was not extradited. He was found in the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit said. “And it took us that long to find him.”
The indictment against Gonzalez-Briones linked him to a long-defunct drug trafficking organization headed by another Gulf Cartel boss: Gumercindo “El Aguila” Gamez Villarreal.
Gamez-Villarreal smuggled marijuana from Diaz Ordaz to Sullivan City, Texas, where police Chief Hernan Guerra protected drug shipments. Two brothers — Jose Merced “Chacho” Arechiga and Jose Raul “Pili” Arechiga — moved the marijuana to stash houses throughout western Hidalgo County.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started investigating the Gamez-Villarreal drug trafficking organization in February 2009.
With assistance from prosecutors, they secured indictments against 32 people, according to federal court records. Guerra and the Arechigas pleaded guilty. Agents made several attempts to arrest Gamez-Villarreal, but he always slipped away.
Gamez-Villarreal was the plaza boss of Miguel Aleman and Diaz Ordaz in 2012, but tensions within the cartel compelled him to flee to South Texas along with Miguel Angel “Compa Mike” Garcia Rodriguez.
US authorities were able to arrest Garcia-Rodriguez but not Gamez-Villarreal, who fled to Mexico after learning that US authorities were after him.
“And by the time we would get there, [he] would be gone. Because, somehow, [he] would hear of it before we would actually be out there,” said DEA Agent A. Marisol Farias, who testified during a February 2018 hearing in the case.
“We had information that paperwork was getting out there somehow. And we believe it was through law enforcement — somebody had contact with some kind of law enforcement.”
Gamez-Villarreal died in August 2016 in General Bravo, Nuevo Leon, apparently murdered during a cartel power struggle, according to information released by the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office. He was killed along with Teofilo Saul Rodriguez, a man from the faction Los Panteras.
Gamez-Villarreal had tried to take the plaza of Ciudad Mier from Hector Javier “La Maquina” Garcia, who worked for the Reynosa plaza boss Julian “Comandante Toro” Loisa Salinas. Gamez-Villarreal’s murder appears to have been committed on Toro’s orders.
Agents got to Gonzalez-Briones by intercepting more than 2,600 phone calls during the Gamez-Villarreal investigation.
On Sept. 2, 2009, agents intercepted a call between Gonzalez-Briones and another Gulf Cartel operative. Smugglers had ditched a Ford F-250 loaded with about 1,000 pounds of marijuana in the Rio Grande near Los Ebanos, Texas, where U.S. Border Patrol agents found the truck.
“I’m fed up with Aguila, comandante, he went and threw a truck right there in front of my ranch,” Gonzalez-Briones said.
In August 2011, Borderland Beat reported that Gonzalez-Briones was arrested in Camargo, Tamaulipas, along with five other people, including his right-hand man Jorge Bryan “R-24” Aguilar Hinojosa. Authorities described Gonzalez Briones as one of the main financial operators of the Gulf Cartel as well as the regional boss for Miguel Aleman.
All the men were flown to Mexico City and turned over to the Organized Crime Division of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, but news about Gonzalez-Briones’s trial died very quickly as days went by. He was then quietly released from prison.
In January 2020, he was arrested in South Texas on old drug trafficking charges. Authorites believe he was hiding there.
His indictment remained sealed until January, when Gonzalez-Briones was arrested. He pleaded not guilty.
Faced with 10 years to life in federal prison, Gonzalez-Briones struck a deal with prosecutors. They agreed to dismiss the indictment. Gonzalez-Briones pleaded guilty to use of a communication facility in causing or facilitating the commission of felonies under the Controlled Substances Act, which is punishable by a maximum of four years in prison.
“Obviously, this is an extremely old case,” said attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez of Rio Grande City, who represented Gonzalez-Briones. “And this is something that we worked long and hard to work out for Mr. Gonzalez.”
When he appeared for sentencing last week, Gonzalez-Briones apologized. Attorney Daniel Mora III, who represented Gonzalez-Briones, asked Crane to consider a role adjustment. He argued the phone call didn’t clearly show that Gonzalez-Briones had a supervisory position within the organization. Profit disagreed with that assessment.
“He was not a minor player. He was a relatively important figure at the time that these phone calls were being intercepted. And he was an important figure within the cartel,” Profit said.
“We pled him to a phone count because of the age of the case, but the phone call clearly establishes what his role was in terms of acting as an enforcer for the cartel at that time.”
Crane declined to grant the role adjustment.
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