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Border Patrol arrests Starr County man wanted in major drug smuggling case

A man who pleaded guilty in a major Starr County drug case but failed to show up for sentencing was arrested by Border Patrol in March after more than two years on the run.

Border Patrol arrested Ricardo Hinojosa, 51, of Rio Grande City on March 2, according to information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection refused to release any details about Hinojosa’s arrest.

Hinojosa made his initial appearance in federal court on March 6.

“You’re here on three different arrest warrants in three different cases,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker.

Attorney Randall Barrera of Corpus Christi, who represents Hinojosa, declined to comment.

Ricardo Hinojosa. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Public Safety.)

Hinojosa is part of the family that owned the Mesquite Grill & Country Store, a popular Rio Grande City restaurant that burned down in 2019. He also smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana through South Texas, according to indictments filed in 2016 and 2020.

Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, linked Hinojosa to members of the Beltran family drug trafficking organization.

During a hearing in 2019, Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey called the Beltran family “one of the largest organizations that I’ve encountered in 29 years on this bench.”

From a ranch in Starr County, the Beltran family managed a sprawling drug trafficking organization that smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana through Border Patrol checkpoints in South Texas to buyers in Dallas, Houston and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They also forged connections with the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas, the Texas Chicano Brotherhood and corrupt Rio Grande City police detectives.

Homeland Security Investigations estimated the Beltran drug trafficking organization transported 60,000 pounds of marijuana from 2007 to 2013.

The investigation started in January 2013, when a sheriff’s deputy stopped a horse trailer in Victoria County.

Along with two horses, the trailer contained about 600 pounds of marijuana, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case. With assistance from the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office, federal agents tracked the marijuana shipment to the Beltran ranch in Starr County.

Prosecutors secured indictments against more than 30 people, including Hinojosa, who was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana.

The indictment didn’t include any details about the conspiracy, which started in January 2011 and ended in January 2013. Hinojosa struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty.

While he waited for sentencing, Hinojosa returned to Starr County and helped run the family restaurant. Hinojosa also resumed smuggling marijuana, according to an indictment filed against him in September 2020.

The court scheduled Hinojosa for sentencing in October 2020, less than a month after prosecutors unsealed the second indictment.

Hinojosa, who faced 10 years to life in federal prison, didn’t show up. Prosecutors charged him with failure to appear.

1 Comment

  1. Mark on March 19, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    Sergio Munoz Jr. along with the other attorneys for La Joya school district are a bunch of rats.

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