Three Charged in Conspiracy to Purchase $500,000 in Weapons for Cartel

LAREDO, Texas – Three men are now facing federal charges for their roles in a conspiracy on behalf of Cartel del Noreste (CDN).

Luis Ramos, 43, Rio Bravo, is expected to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher A. Dos Santos in Laredo today at 1:30 p.m. Authorities took him into custody Tuesday, July 27. Also charged and previously arrested are Mexican national Manuel Perez-Ortiz, 39, and Arturo Mata Jr., 55, Rio Bravo. They are expected again in federal court Aug. 12. A federal grand jury retuned the five-count indictment May 18.

The charges allege that negotiations to purchase $500,000 worth of high-powered weapons occurred in May 2020. The weapons allegedly included machine guns, grenades, military-style rifles and rocket-propelled launchers. According to the indictment, the plan was for the weapons to be purchased in the United States and then smuggled into Mexico. There, those associated with CDN planned to use them in battles against rival cartels to further their drug smuggling activities, according to the charges.

CDN allegedly sent Perez-Ortiz to conduct the transaction in Laredo. On June 19, 2020, Ramos and Mata drove Perez-Ortiz to and from the meetings discussing the exchange, according to the indictment. Mata also allegedly assisted in providing counter-surveillance during the operation.

Law enforcement apprehended Ramos and Perez-Ortiz June 19, 2020. At that time, authorities seized $500,000, according to the charges.

All men are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to export firearms to Mexico. Upon conviction, they face up to 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy as well as a maximum $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The indictment also alleges three substantive money laundering counts, including international money laundering, which carry the same potential penalty. The conspiracy to export firearms charge carries a potential punishment of five years and a maximum $250,000 fine.

The investigation was part of the Blue Indigo task force and brought as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation dubbed Operation Noreste. OCDETF is the largest anti-crime task force in the country. Its mission is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States through prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency task forces that leverage the authorities and expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement.