BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – An imprisoned man suspected of being a drug cartel leader, who was set to be released this month, was arrested on charges of bribing an immigration officer to secure his safe return to Mexico, federal prosecutors said.
Juan Carlos de La Cruz Reyna, 37, a purported top lieutenant of the Gulf Cartel, pleaded guilty in 2009 to threatening to kill two U.S. agents, and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Only days from freedom on those charges, de La Cruz will face a detention hearing on the bribery charges next Tuesday, prosecutors said.
De La Cruz’s associates made eight cash payments totaling $542,090 to the undercover immigration officer, and signed over six properties as collateral for the final $460,000 payment, prosecutors said.
“According to the criminal complaint, in or about May 2011, Julio Torres, 39, of Brownsville, Texas, began negotiations with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations … undercover agent regarding making bribery payments to facilitate a transfer of de La Cruz to a Texas facility as well as his release to elements of the Gulf Cartel instead of Mexican authorities,” prosecutors said in the statement.
“Torres and de La Cruz believed the Mexican government had additional criminal charges against de La Cruz and Torres allegedly stated he and others would pay additional money to ensure de La Cruz would not be turned over to Mexican authorities upon his removal to Mexico.
“Torres also claimed de La Cruz and his associates were fearful that if de La Cruz were to be deported to another Mexican location, apart from Ports of Entry in Tamaulipas, rival drug cartels may abduct him.”
Torres and de La Cruz were among seven men taken into custody Wednesday night, prosecutors said.
De La Cruz was with a group of armed drug traffickers who cornered Drug Enforcement Administration agent Joe Dubois and FBI agent Daniel Fuentes in 1999, the Brownsville Herald and Associated Press reported in 2007.
“Both agents, who were assigned to the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, were in Matamoros to talk with an informant about the cartel’s operations when as they drove, they were boxed in and confronted by the traffickers,” the Herald.
Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, the cartel’s leader at the time, was with the group. He stuck his head and a submachine gun into the agents’ car and told them he would kill them if they didn’t turn hand over the informant who was with them, according to the AP report in the Herald.
De La Cruz had an assault rifle, and tried to open the agents’ car door, according to the AP report.
The agents managed to talk their way out of the situation, and escaped with the informant, the newspaper reported.
After his arrest during a raid at a steakhouse in Mexico City in August 2007, de La Cruz was with 10 drug suspects extradited to the United States in late 2008, according to the Herald.
De la Cruz is a former Tamaulipas, Mexico state police officer and founding member of the Zetas -the Gulf cartel’s enforcement wing, the Herald reported
Throughout his tenure with the Gulf Cartel he is believed to have worked as a hit man, manager of the group’s smuggling routes, and the main contact point for cocaine shipments coming in from Colombia and Central America, according to Herald reports.