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DEA: Cartel-linked drug distribution network operated out of mechanic shop in Austin, Texas

March 31, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
DEA: Cartel-linked drug distribution network operated out of mechanic shop in Austin, Texas

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A year-long probe targeting a Mexican cartel-linked drug distribution network working out of a mechanic shop in Austin, Texas resulted in over three dozen arrests and the seizure of a substantial amount of drugs.

In a press conference Wednesday, officials with the DEA and U.S. Department of Justice announced details on how agents managed to take down the drug operation with ties to the La Familia cartel in Michoacan, Mexico.

The investigation, called Operation Spanx, began in March 2017. During that time, agents identified the focal point for the cartel-linked drug distribution network operating out of J & J Auto in Austin.

Authorities also identified 32-year-old Luis Villagrana as the ringleader.

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

Investigators also learned that Villagrana had formed drug distribution cells that were dispersed throughout the Austin-area.

The drug enterprise is accused of distributing meth, heroin, and cocaine.

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

According to KXAN, Once the drugs arrived in Austin, authorities said the items were repackaged and then shipped to states across the country.

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

In a 24 hour period, 18 people were apprehended in connection with the bust. Another ten suspects who were already in custody for other charges were served federal search warrants. A total of 40 people have been taken into custody in this case. Most of the suspects reside in the Austin-area.

Sonya Johnson has been taking her vehicle to J & J Auto Service for over a decade, and she said that her son was friends with one of the workers who was busted.

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

Johnson says she’s still glad that the drugs are off the streets.

“We in law enforcement will identify and come after any organization that tries to conduct their illegal activities in our communities,” Glaspy stated.

The corridor encompassing East Rundberg Lane, North Lamar Boulevard, and West Braker Lane has historically dealt with crime issues.

However, Officer Rafael Kianes, who works as APD’s district representative in the area, indicated that crime has decreased drastically in the past few years

“When I got here ten years ago, the Rundberg area was known for crime, prostitution, drugs, open-air drug markets,” Kianes stated.

In 2013, APD was awarded a federal grant to work on innovative ways to clean up the community. As a result, Kianes said police have started utilizing unique patrol methods that have proven more effective.

Kianes has also assisted in bridging the gap between APD and community group to combat crime. A significant accomplishment, Kianes added, was the conception of the Rundberg Educational Advancement District, which provides opportunities for local students.

“Over the years, we’ve seen reductions in violent crime, but more importantly, we’ve seen the attendance rating at schools go above 97%,” Kianes continued. “When we come together as a community, you get that support and family support, and it works.”

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