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Houston man pleads not guilty in Jalisco New Generation Cartel smuggling case

When a grand jury indicted Eron Otero in March, federal prosecutors knew where to find him.

Otero had just arrived at Federal Correctional Institution Three Rivers to start serving a 30-year prison sentence for selling methamphetamine. The U.S. Marshals Service picked him up and brought Otero to McAllen, where prosecutors had indicted him on nearly identical charges.

“Not guilty, your honor,” Otero said on April 3, when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker for arraignment.

Attorney E. Matthew Leeper III of Houston, who represents Otero, declined to comment.

Agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Otero in May 2021 after conducting a sting operation near Houston.

Eron Otero. (Photo courtesy of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.)

An informant told the DEA that a man wanted to sell 15 kilograms of methamphetamine. The informant, though, didn’t know the man’s name.

Agents set up a sting operation.

The informant contacted the man and claimed someone wanted to buy all 15 kilograms for $60,000. On May 26, 2021, the man set up a meeting with the informant in Tomball, a small town north of Houston.

When the man showed up, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office arrested him.

Agents identified the man as Eron Otero, 35, of Houston. In his trunk, agents found a cooler that contained 15 bags of methamphetamine.

Eron — pronounced “Aaron” — had lived in the Rio Grande Valley during 2017, according to Hidalgo County court records. During an interview with a San Juan Police Department investigator, Otero said he lived with a girlfriend in Pharr. After they broke up, he returned to Houston.

“OTERO said an unknown individual in Mexico directed him to make the delivery,” according to the federal criminal complaint against him. “OTERO said he had gotten the cooler and its contents from an individual driving a black Chrysler 300. OTERO stated he knew he was picking up drugs, either methamphetamine or marijuana, in the cooler, but never checked to see what type.”

In 2022, Otero pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced him to 30 years in federal prison.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons sent Otero to Three Rivers, a medium-security federal prison.

In March, though, a grand jury in McAllen indicted Otero on nearly identical charges.

The new indictment linked Otero to Ivan Ornelas-Pio, who is accused of coordinating drug shipments for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

According to prosecutors, the Ornelas-Pio organization smuggled hundreds of kilograms of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl through the Rio Grande Valley from 2018 to 2023. Smugglers recruited by Ornelas-Pio stashed the drugs in speaker boxes, which they transported in both tractor-trailers and passenger cars.

The new indictment charged Otero with participating in a conspiracy to possess methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute.

Other people charged in the conspiracy included a father of four accused of buying guns for high-ranking members of a drug cartel, a former member of the Santa Maria school board, the owner of a South McAllen car lot and a woman known as “La Bruja.”

The new indictment also charged Otero with possession of about 18.57 kilograms of methamphetamine on May 13, 2020 — about a year before his arrest in Houston.

If convicted, Otero faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

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