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A federal judge placed a McAllen businessman on probation last week after he pleaded guilty to transporting an illegal alien.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane placed Jose Luis Trejo, 51, of McAllen on probation for three years.
“I’d like you to know how sincerely sorry I am,” Trejo said on Sept. 9, when he appeared before Crane for sentencing.
A grand jury indicted Trejo, who owns McAllen-based Best Medical Supply, on a federal money laundering charge in 2020. He pleaded not guilty.
After nearly two years of pre-trial proceedings, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the money laundering charge if Trejo pleaded guilty to transporting an illegal alien instead.
“We’re just very pleased with the outcome for Mr. Trejo and his family,” said attorney Jason M. Davis of San Antonio, who represented Trejo. “We appreciate that, after a very long investigation, the government agreed to dismiss the indictment.”
The FBI arrested Trejo after conducting a sting operation.
In February 2020, according to the indictment against him, “Jose Luis Trejo conducted and attempted to conduct a financial transaction affecting interstate or foreign commerce involving property represented by an individual to be proceeds and property used to conduct or facilitate specified unlawful activity, to wit: bribery of a public official and the unlawful smuggling of goods from the United States.”
The government had already seized about $347,000 worth of gold coins during the investigation, according to the indictment. Along with the coins, the government wanted Trejo to forfeit $400,000 and a warehouse in Hidalgo.
While the indictment provided a summary of the scheme — Trejo had conducted some kind of financial transaction that involved “proceeds and property” purportedly linked to bribery and smuggling — it didn’t provide any specifics.
The details emerged, piece by piece, during court hearings in 2021 and 2022, when the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto “Bobby” Lopez Jr., discussed the case with Trejo’s attorneys.
Trejo had business relationships with former Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero, who pleaded guilty in the western Hidalgo County corruption case, and former Hidalgo County EMS CEO Kenneth B. Ponce, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud.
“In the end, Mr. Trejo wasn’t involved in any of those prosecutions,” said attorney Alejandro Ballesteros of McAllen, who represented Trejo. “Which is why the government didn’t proceed against him.”
The money laundering charge, however, involved Jesus Juraidini, a businessman from Brownsville.
Trejo’s attorneys described Juraidini as “the main extorter for the Gulf Cartel.” At some point between 2018 and 2020, Juraidini apparently started cooperating with the FBI.
Juraidini participated in the sting operation that targeted Trejo.
“This is a guy who has admitted being an enforcer for the cartel, meeting with Mr. Trejo and saying: ‘Hey, will you give me a check for this cash?’ Mr. Trejo said: ‘I don’t have that much money,’” Davis said during a hearing in February 2022, when he summarized the sting operation. “The truth is, judge, as we stated in the motion, he did have that much money. He just refused to do it.”
Juraidini suggested that he could buy a piece of property instead, Davis said, and Trejo felt pressured to sell.
“Mr. Trejo, knowing this guy was an extorter, said: ‘Ok, I’ll sell it to you. I’ll give you a deal on it. Whatever,’” Davis said.
No bribery or smuggling actually took place as part of the sting operation.
Juraidini pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. He’s scheduled for sentencing in December.
It remains unclear whether or not Trejo cooperated with the government and, if so, what information he provided to prosecutors.
In March 2021, attorneys for Trejo said they needed more time to review evidence and “continue efforts to negotiate a potential agreed resolution to the case.”
“Because the basis for this motion includes matters that are subject to a Government motion under U.S.S.G. §5K1.1, this continuance request has been filed under seal,” according to the motion, which had not actually been filed under seal.
The motion referenced section §5K1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines manual, which discusses how someone who provides the government with “substantial assistance” may receive a reduced sentence.
Trejo struck a deal with prosecutors in July 2022.
He agreed to plead guilty to transporting an illegal alien, which is punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison. Prosecutors, meanwhile, agreed to drop the money laundering charge, which is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The standard, two-page plea agreement also had an addendum, which remains sealed.
Trejo pleaded guilty on July 11, when he confessed to transporting “an alien who had come to, entered, and remained in the United States in violation of law” from McAllen to San Antonio.
Trejo returned to court last week for sentencing.
Crane, the federal judge, placed Trejo on probation for three years and fined him $5,000. Trejo must also pay a $5,000 assessment required by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.
“I wish to express my true remorse for my actions,” Trejo said.