Detective testifies man seeking bail clearly implicated.
By Jason Buch, firstname.lastname@example.org
LAREDO — A federal wiretap helped police break open a case against a group that allegedly carried out hits for the Zetas drug cartel, a homicide detective testified Tuesday.
Police had identified suspects in the July 19, 2010, killing of Ramon Lucero, Det. Robert Garcia testified in state district court, when their investigation crossed paths with a federal inquiry into an alleged Zeta money laundering ring.
Garcia was testifying in a hearing for a writ of habeas corpus filed by defendant Nicolas Sanchez, 48. Sanchez filed the writ arguing that police do not have enough evidence to keep him in jail without bail.
Sanchez, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico, testified he's a homeowner and runs his own business in Laredo that provides services to customs brokers.
But Garcia testified that in September 2010, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration gave him access to their wiretaps, allowing him to listen to Sanchez and other defendants discussing violent acts carried out in the U.S. on behalf of the Zetas, as well as drug and weapons smuggling.
The conversations on the wiretaps led to police breaking up a kidnapping attempt Sept. 19, 2010, Garcia said, and helped police tie Sanchez to the Sept. 14, 2010, shooting death of Fidencio Rios Cardenas. He also gleaned information that led him to believe Sanchez was working for two high-ranking members of the Zetas in Mexico.
“He reports to ‘42,' who is Omar Treviño, and to ‘40,' who is Miguel Treviño, the No. 2 in command of the Zetas,” Garcia said of Sanchez. “We know he's beneath them, but as far as his rank, he has conspirators that report to him.”
Miguel Treviño Morales is well known to Laredo law enforcement. He's wanted on five murder charges in killings that happened in 2005 and 2006 and has been connected to a pair of slayings the Zetas contracted to the Texas Syndicate prison gang in 2007 and another shooting death in 2009, according to court records.
In the 2010 killings case, the crew that Sanchez ran would conduct surveillance on Zeta targets and contract the hits to the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos prison gang, Garcia testified. The people working for Sanchez were paid $200 to $500 per week to be on-call for the Zetas, Garcia testified.
“If an order came to commit a crime, for example the murders, they would be activated and paid $5,000 for the murders,” he said.
Garcia agreed with a prosecutor's characterization that Sanchez was “upper management.”
Sanchez, who said he'd never been convicted of a felony, denied being a member of the Zetas. He said for the past 25 years he's been running his business in Laredo, where he has a wife and two sons.
Laredo police have charged six people with capital murder in two homicides they say the Zetas committed last year and, according to court documents, are investigating them in connection with a third.
Police originally announced they had charged Sanchez and his codefendants with three counts of capital murder. They also charged six people in connection with the kidnapping police thwarted. Federal prosecutors last week announced they'd charged dozens as a result of their money-laundering investigation.
Judge Monica Z. Notzon ordered Sanchez held without bail after Tuesday's hearing.