Eliazar Garza and Jose Zavala were two Dallas wholesalers who helped a major drug trafficking organization move methamphetamine through an East Austin body shop to destinations across the country, prosecutors told jurors Tuesday in U.S. district court.
The elaborate network, a cell of the Mexican criminal enterprise Knights Templar, was busted by a Central Texas task force in April, netting more than 20 of its members and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in drugs and drug proceeds. All of those defendants arrested have accepted plea agreements for drug and money laundering charges except for Garza and Zavala, who are on trial this week for one count each of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
In court Tuesday, their defense lawyers reserved their opening statements until later. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Guess said the men were captured arranging drug deals and cash drop-offs in multiple surveillance operations and intercepted phone conversations.
“Many of them spoke in code, in which they discussed the meth business,” Guess said. “You will hear from chemists who will tell you this was high-quality meth.”
On the stand, federal agents described a complex web of associates who took the unprocessed crystal over the border and across the state, stashed in the drive shafts and hidden compartments of vehicles that came in and out of JT Body and Paint at 3506 Darby St., near Ed Bluestein Boulevard and Hudson Street. The product was then prepared for transport to distributors in Dallas, Oklahoma City and other cities across the country, the investigators said.
Prosecutors displayed photos from one seizure in which 11 pounds of the powdered drug was recovered from a Ford Ranger, most of it stuffed into its drive shaft. Guess also presented transcripts of phone calls in which he said Garza and Zavala communicated in ciphered language with shop owner, Jesse Treviño, and a high-level supplier, Jose Rodriguez.
Treviño and Rodriguez have pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. They each face a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum of a life sentence.
Court records say that between October 2011 through April 2013, Rodriguez is heard in telephone conversations discussing drug transactions and methods to send the proceeds back to Mexico. In a search warrant executed at his apartment and that of his wife, authorities confiscated more than $80,000 in meth profits.
Among the people who would receive large quantities of meth from Rodriguez was Treviño, the records say.
The addictive drug, once cooked in labs tucked within the Hill Country and in rural areas across the state, is now increasingly produced and supplied by Mexican organized crime groups, officials said.