Carjacking conspirator testifies in drug rip trial

Gov’t witness testifies about crew’s inner workings

McALLEN — Jurors got some insight into how a drug rip crew called “Los Mikey’s” operated in the Rio Grande Valley and effectively stole cocaine from others during a span of about a year.

Among the highlights from the second day of the federal trial against Jose Miguel “El Mikey” Montemayor and Marin Macrin “Filtro” Cerda, accused of being part of a group of men who committed carjackings and home invasions as part of a drug trafficking operation, was the testimony from one of their own.

Cesar Alejandro Tovar-Guillén, also known as “El Sobrino,” or “The Nephew,” took the stand Tuesday, detailing the inner workings of the criminal activities in which he and several others took part between July 2016 and June 2017.

Tovar-Guillén, who took the stand as one of the government’s witnesses, further implicated the two men accused of participating in home invasions and carjackings that took place during that time span.

The defense, represented by Juan E. Gonzalez for Cerda, and Carlos Noel Monarrez, spent time pushing back on Tovar-Guillén’s testimony, attempting to paint the witness as an opportunist who was now cooperating to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

But the San Luis Potosi native didn’t waver, and when challenged by defense attorneys Gonzalez and Monarrez, Tovar-Guillén would expand on the answers he gave to the government’s prosecutors, explaining in length why he answered the way he did.

Tovar-Guillén, who pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges in June in connection with this case, admitted he was fully cooperating with the government in an effort to possibly get a reduced sentence from U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez.

He said that he’s doing it for his family, and his wife who implored him to try to get a reduced sentence by cooperating

The defense attorneys, who have yet to present and establish a defense for their respective clients, have been diligent in its questions of law enforcement who worked the investigation into the rip crew.

Instead, the defense seemingly has attempted to establish for jurors that authorities weren’t thorough enough during its handling of the tractor trailer theft.

Earlier in the day, Alton Police Chief Jonathan Flores testified to his role in an investigation into the theft of an 18-wheeler on July 7, 2016.

Flores, who was a Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office sergeant at the time, detailed his participation in that investigation.

He testified to interviewing Cerda, who stated he was at work during the time the 18-wheeler was stolen from a Mission man’s home in rural Mission.

That Mission man, Ricky Garcia, testified Monday that only Cerda knew of the 18-wheeler because he had shared that information with him the day before the tractor trailer was stolen.

A day before, Garcia testified that he conveyed to Cerda that he was paid to drive the tractor trailer from Pennsylvania, where it had been abandoned, back to the Rio Grande Valley.

Cerda, believing the tractor trailer possibly had a hidden compartment that either contained drugs or cash, offered Garcia his Chrysler 300 for the trailer. Garcia declined because the trailer did not belong to him.

According to Tovar-Guillén, Cerda relayed the information about the trailer to his brother, Miguel Cerda. The plan was hatched, and subsequently the morning of July 7, 2016, several men armed with pistols and at least one high-powered rifle, broke down the door of Garcia’s mobile home and demanded the keys to the trailer.

Tovar-Guillén admitted to knowing about the trailer, but clarified he was only involved in finding a location in which the trailer could be stored while the crew searched and stripped the trailer; and not in the violent armed encounter with Garcia at his mobile home.

Flores testified about surveillance footage from a nearby residence from the location of the theft. The trailer is seen driving down the road, then two minutes later, a maroon vehicle follows the trailer, followed briefly by a gray Jeep.

Flores testified that during his interview of Cerda, he described Miguel Cerda’s vehicle as a gray Jeep Cherokee.

Tovar-Guillén testified that he met up with the crew after the theft, stating that Cerda, who was the only one who knew how to drive a tractor trailer, was the man behind the wheel.

During Flores’ testimony, the defense attorneys questioned Flores’ approach to the investigation into the theft of the tractor trailer.

During the first two days of testimony, the defense focused its questions on the procedures taken by the sheriff’s deputies and officials, and McAllen police officers, who testified to different carjacking incidents.

Several times on Tuesday, the defense asked Flores why he didn’t follow up on Cerda’s alibi, which was that he was at work when the theft took place.

Flores testified he was busy taking Cerda’s statement and that his colleagues followed up with others.

In all, Tovar-Guillén was on the stand Tuesday for roughly four hours of testimony, during which he named several of the more than 20 co-conspirators connected to the case, implicating many of them in various drug rips and carjackings of other drug couriers.

Also called to the stand Tuesday was a McAllen woman who was the victim of a carjacking perpetrated by the group near La Plaza Mall on March 12, 2017.

She described an encounter in the parking lot of a Stripes convenience store on South 10th Street when, as she was sitting in the passenger’s seat of her husband’s vehicle while he was inside, a man got into the vehicle, pointed a pistol at her head, and told her to get out.

The Stripes cashier working the register at the time, and who witnessed the carjacking, also testified briefly to the incident.

Cerda faces 19 counts against him, including multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, carjacking and violent crime involving drugs and machine guns, while Montemayor faces 13 similar charges.

Former Hidalgo County bailiff, Oscar De La Cruz and former Donna ISD police officers Juan Fernando Mata, Juan Antonio “Paisa” Flores, Francisco Javier Montemayor, Marlyn Gonzalez, Arturo Vargas, Jorge Antonio Calvo-Ayala, Danny Cano, Miguel Marin Cerda, Alfredo Avalos-Sanchez and Moises Delevi have all been sentenced in connection with the case.

Still pending sentencing are the nine remaining defendants, including Sergio “Tovey” Alejandro Gallegos, who is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 25. Robert Lee “El Tio” Rodriguez, Jose Garcia-De La Torre, Gustavo Angel De Leon-Covarrubias, Carlos Guadalupe Aquino-Pacheco, Antonio Javier Gomez and Jose Arturo Reyes-Sanchez are scheduled for sentencing Oct 22., while Marcos Antonio Villarreal is set to be sentenced Nov. 20, court records show.

Additional co-conspirators could be called to testify during the trial, which is expected to take up to a month to complete.

Day 3 of testimony will resume Thursday, as the trial will be put on hold to accommodate a scheduling conflict for the court.