DEA: North Austin mechanic shop was drug cartel distribution site

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AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN)A year-long investigation targeting a cartel drug ring operating out of an Austin mechanic shop netted more than three dozen arrests and copious amounts of narcotics. 

In a news conference Wednesday, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice released details on how agents were able to dismantle the drug ring with ties to the La Familia cartel based in Michoacan, Mexico. 

The investigation–dubbed Operation Spanx–started in March of 2017 and, during that time, agents were able to identify the focal point for the distribution network was stemming from J & J Auto at 10804 Motheral Dr. — near the intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and Braker Lane.

Authorities also identified Luis Villagrana, 32, of Leander, Texas, as the ringleader behind the Austin office. 

“[Villagrana] had direct contact with Mexican command and control heads for the cartel in Mexico and that he was utilizing Austin as his base of operations,” Will Glaspy with the DEA said. 

Detectives also discovered Villagrana had established drug distribution cells that were scattered throughout the Austin-area.

Drugs Seized

  • 148 pounds of crystal meth
  • 213 kg. of liquid meth (which would’ve produced 400 pounds of crystal meth) 
  • 62 pounds of cocaine
  • 13 pounds of heroin
  • $400,000 in US currency

The drug ring is accused of moving methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. 

“The drugs were smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico crossing into Texas from Eagle Pass all the way down to Brownsville and they were shipped directly here to Austin,” continued Glaspy. 

Once the drugs made it to Austin, authorities said the items were repackaged and then shipped to states across the country. 

“This was not just a Central Texas issue, the distribution had its tentacles going nationwide,” U.S. Attorney John Bash said.

In the past 24 hours, 18 people were arrested in connection with the sting. Another 10 people who were already in custody for other charges were served federal search warrants. A total of 40 people have been arrested in this case. Most of the suspects live in the Austin-area. 

Sonya Johnson has been taking her car to J & J Auto Service for more than a decade, and she says her son was friends with one of the employees who was arrested.

“This is a complete shock to me,” said Johnson. “It’s the least expecting people, but at the same point in time I can’t see it, I really cannot see it from him.”

Still, Johnson says she’s glad all those drugs are off the streets, and investigators say, let this be a warning.

“We in law enforcement will identify, target and come after any criminal organization that tries to set up shop and conduct their illegal activities in our Central Texas communities,” said Glaspy.

APD says drug bust is good for the neighborhood

The corridor encompassing East Rundberg Lane, North Lamar Boulevard and Wast Braker Lane has historically had crime issues.  However, Officer Rafael Kianes, who works as APD’s District Representative in the area, says crime has gone down drastically in the area in recent years.

“When I got here about ten years ago, the Rundberg area was known for crime, prostitution, drugs, open air drug markets, that sort of thing,” Kianes said.

In 2013, APD received a federal grant to work on innovative ways to clean up the corridor. As a result of the grant, Kianes says officers have begun using special patrol methods that have proven more effective. Kianes has also helped bridge the gap between APD and community groups, bringing both together to combat crime. A big accomplishment, Kianes says, was creating the Rundberg Educational Advancement District, which provides opportunities for students in the area.

“Over the years, we’ve seen drastic reductions in violent crime, but more importantly, we’ve seen the attendance rating at the schools go up above 97 percent,” Kianes said. “When we come together as an entire community, you get that huge support and family support, and it really works.”

Officer Kianes says crime stats in the corridor are now the lowest they’ve been in the ten years he’s worked for APD. He says while officers are still faced with some hotspots of criminal activity, a bust as big as the one on Motheral Drive is another great step for the area.

“It’s a good news story, because we have an area where this is no longer, it’s not the norm, it’s out of the norm, so we want to make sure we’re working on those things to make sure that it doesn’t come back,” Kianes said.

This article was taken from kxan.com

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