Cartel Killing Trial Under Way in Texas

      FORT WORTH (CN) – A Mexican drug cartel leader celebrated the assassination of a rival at a Dallas-area shopping center by throwing a beer bash and giving away a BMW and a hunting trip, the son of a defendant charged in the killing testified Thursday.
     Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Campano, 32, told jurors that Beltran Leyva cartel boss Rodolfo Villarreal Hernandez, known as El Gato, ordered the hit on Gulf Cartel lawyer and U.S. informant Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa.
     Guerrero Chapa was shot dead in May 2013 in broad daylight as he sat in his car at the Southlake Town Center shopping center in the affluent suburb of Southlake.
     A white vehicle pulled up behind Guerrero , a shooter got out and fired through Guerrero’s window while ignoring Guerrero’s wife, who was not hurt. The shooter and getaway driver remain at large.
     Mexican “last names” are the first last name, the patronymic. The “second last name” is the matronymic, which is used only on formal occasions.
     Guerrero is believed to have represented former Gulf Cartel head Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence for money laundering and drug trafficking.
     Prosecutors indicted Ledezma’s father – private investigator Jesus Gerardo Ledezma Cepeda, 59 – and Jose Luis Cepeda Cortes, 59, in 2014, charging the cousins with interstate stalking in the murder-for-hire conspiracy.
     Neither man is accused of being the gunman, but of traveling from Mexico to Southlake “with the intent to kill” Chapa.
     The younger Ledezma testified that El Gato (the Cat) spent $1 million tracking Guerrero. Prosecutors say Cepeda used public records and a GPS device attached to Guerrero’s car to follow him.
     Ledezma pleaded guilty to helping the defendants track Guerrero, in exchange for protection for his family. He told the jury he was testifying because “it’s the right thing to do” under “my morals and values that my mother taught me.”
     Both Ledezma and his father cried and wiped tears from their eyes during his emotional testimony. Ledezma testified that Guerrero was one of many targets El Gato ordered his father to track. He said El Gato’s targets usually get kidnapped and tortured “if they are lucky.”
     Ledezma said that when he tried to back away from the plot to find Guerrero, El Gato’s men shot at him in Mexico and ran him over with a car, leaving him seriously injured and in a hospital.
     Ledezma testified that a GPS device the men placed on a car belonging to Guerrero’s sister-in-law in nearby Grapevine led them to Guerrero’s home in Southlake. He said that on the day of the murder when they were following Guerrero, he was sent to get coffee in the town square and he was told of the killing when he returned to the trio’s rented car.
     When El Gato learned of the killing, he said thank you and “now his dad can rest in peace,” Ledezma said.
     During opening statements Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua T. Burgess said El Gato wanted revenge on Guerrero for the death of his father.
     He said the defendants stalked Guerrero for several months until they led a cartel assassin to Southlake Town Square, acting as “hunting guides.” Burgess said that while Guerrero did illegal things, “no one deserves to get murdered.”
     Cepeda’s attorney, Wes Ball with Ball & Hase in Arlington, told the court El Gato ordered his client to take the job, and he had no choice because of fear for his family in Monterrey, where he had previously been a policeman.
     “This is no job offer,” he said. “This is a different world. Ledezma does what he is told; he had no choice.”
     Mexican drug cartels operate with police agencies on a system known as plomo o plata: lead or silver. Either take bribes or take lead.
     Ball said his client was a private investigator whose work usually involved following cheating spouses.
     Cortes’ attorney, Robert Rogers of Dallas, said his client was an unknowing accomplice who did not know his cousin was involved in a murder for hire. He said Cortes was lured by offers of free trips to Miami and Dallas.

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