Cartel Allegedly Funds Official’s Campaign

Starr County Justice of the Peace
Former Starr County Justice of the Peace Roel "Role" Valadez Jr. | Image by Roel "Role" Valadez Jr./Facebook

A Starr County man was sentenced to more than two years in prison last week after being caught smuggling over 1,500 pounds of marijuana across the border, and an assistant U.S. attorney claims that he was part of an organization that helped fund an elected official’s campaign.

Adrean Espitia Garza, 26, of Rio Grande City, was sentenced to 30 months in prison on August 31.

Fabian Guerrero, Espitia’s attorney, said, “He was a delivery guy, so to speak,” according to CBS 4 Valley Central.

In August 2021, Espitia was caught driving a truck carrying more than 1,500 pounds of marijuana. He pleaded guilty in March 2023 to possessing marijuana with intent to distribute.

Espitia was allegedly a member of an organization affiliated with the Gulf Cartel, which smuggled various drugs through Starr County between 2020 and 2023.

The Drug Enforcement Administration began arresting members of the organization in 2021 during “Operation Ice River,” according to CBS 4. Prosecutors have brought charges against more than 30 people thought to be connected to the drug smuggling operation.

Officials allege Ignacio “Nacho” Garza, 51, and Diego Alberto Reyes Roiz, 42, were in charge of the drug smuggling organization and were in communication with the Gulf Cartel, per CBS 4.

Garza and Reyes were arrested, and both entered pleas of not guilty, claiming they work in construction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit claims Garza allegedly funded the 2018 campaign of Democratic Starr County Justice of the Peace Roel “Role” Valadez Jr., which “the government believes was for purposes of having influence within the Starr County area,” per CBS 4.

Profit further explained Garza’s involvement in the campaign in October 2021 following an interview with Valadez.

“He indicated that Ignacio Garza supported his campaign by buying chicken plates,” said Profit, per the Progress Times. “But Ignacio Garza has said that he fully funded his campaign.”

Despite Profit’s statements, Garza’s Attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, said that the claims were false and Garza did not fully fund the campaign.

“I don’t know where the government’s getting its facts,” said Garcia, according to the Progress Times. “Just because someone donates to a campaign doesn’t mean that someone’s funding anything.”

“We have Title III intercepts that put [Valadez] negotiating for a substantial amount of marijuana, hoping that he could bring it to Houston,” Profit said, according to the Progress Times.

She added that the government also has evidence of him “negotiating and selling other quantities of marijuana — small quantities of marijuana.”

At the time, Valadez was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, per the Progress Times.

In September 2022, Valadez was charged with two additional crimes involving money laundering, including one count involving foreign commerce, according to My RGV.

Melissa Garza, former city secretary of Rio Grande City and wife of Ignacio Garza, is also facing the same two charges.

Valadez has pleaded not guilty and was initially suspended from his role as Starr County’s Justice of the Peace, but he has since resigned, per CBS 4.

Closer to home in Dallas, crime has continued to rise. Crimes involving narcotic violations have risen by 6.5% since 2022, with 6,981 incidents reported as of September 5, according to the Dallas crime analytics dashboard.

Nearby Fort Worth has experienced much lower crime in its downtown area when compared to Dallas, which may be due to the specialized crime units that actively manage crime in the city center.

Dallas is also experiencing a shortage of police officers in the city. A city report previously stated that 4,000 officers are needed to manage crime in the city, yet Dallas only employs roughly 3,100 officers.

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