RGC man heads to trial in cocaine conspiracy case

McALLEN — A Rio Grande City man will go to trial in connection with cocaine smuggling charges.

Joel “El Tio” Gomez-Vela stood before U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa on Tuesday and announced he was ready for trial in connection with cocaine smuggling charges, court records show.

Gomez-Vela, 45, was before Hinojosa for his final pretrial hearing in a case related to a federal investigation into Gomez-Vela and others in connection to the smuggling of cocaine into the Rio Grande Valley.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents received information about one of their cooperating defendants.

In March 2017, DEA agents were told the cooperating defendant — referred to as CD1 in the complaint — was a “drug courier who would smuggle narcotics from Mexico into the United States through U.S. Customs and Border Protection ports of entry,” the complaint states.

“Database indices checks on CD1 during March 2017 indicated that CD1 frequently crossed into the U.S. through the Roma, Texas POE,” the complaint states. “During March of 2017, CD1 previously crossed this Silverado on nine prior occasions.”

Agents received information that at about 10:30 a.m. March 21, 2017, CD1 had entered the United State through the Roma port of entry.

Agents placed CD1 under surveillance, who was driving the Chevrolet Silverado, and followed him to the La Plaza Mall in McAllen, according to the complaint.

CD1 was observed exiting his vehicle, and entering the Macy’s store in the mall.

A short while later a second person, identified as CD2 in the complaint, arrived at the mall, approached the vehicle loaded with drugs, entered it and drove away.

CD2 was subsequently pulled over on a “probable cause vehicle stop,” where authorities found packages inside a side rear door that contained about 15.5 kilos of cocaine, the complaint states.

In September of that same year, agents arrested CD1 on federal possession with intent to distribute co-caine charges.

CD1 admitted to the March 21, 2017, smuggling attempt through the Roma port of entry and how he had obtained documents that would allow him to travel between the two countries from a man named “Joel,” the complaint states.

He told agents that “Joel” asked him if he wanted to work “by crossing things into and out of the U.S.,” the complaint states.

CD1 told agents that the night before the March 21, 2017, smuggling attempt “Joel,” contacted him and asked for his truck. Subsequently someone took his truck and loaded it with narcotics.

He said March 21, 2017, he crossed into the U.S. with his loaded vehicle and headed toward La Plaza Mall.

After arriving at the mall, CD1 said he met with Joel, and handed him the keys to the vehicle. Joel called him later that same day to tell him CD2 was not answering his phone — this after authorities found CD2 with the 15 kilos of cocaine.

CD1 told agents shortly after an unknown person picked him up from the mall and took him to an apart-ment in Rio Grande City, the complaint states.

Agents arrested CD2 on a federal drug charge on Sept. 25, 2017, the complaint states.

Both CD1 and CD2 identified Gomez-Vela through a photo lineup, and referred to him as “El Tio,” the complaint states.

Gomez-Vela is represented by attorney G. Allen Ramirez of Rio Grande City.

Gomez-Vela is due back in court June 14 for jury selection for his trial, where if convicted he could face up to 10 years in prison.