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Man wanted in ‘Operation Ice River’ arrested in Mexico

A man accused of sacrificing animals to “bless” drug shipments was arrested in Mexico last month.

Hector Reyes, a man in his mid-30s from Rio Grande City, is charged with smuggling drugs and violating the federal Endangered Species Act.

Reyes recruited drivers to transport drug shipments, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Patrick Zaruba, who testified about the drug trafficking organization during a hearing on May 9. Reyes also participated in quasi-religious ceremonies that involved animal sacrifice.

“Before a narcotic load would be brought from, for example, from McAllen to San Antonio or Austin or other locations that we’ve learned from our investigation, they would do these rituals,” Zaruba said.

Reyes believed ritual sacrifices would protect drug shipments from law enforcement, Zaruba said, adding that agents heard people discuss the quasi-religious ceremonies on wiretaps.

Attorney Joel Furman of Tustin, California, who represented Reyes, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The case against Reyes is part of “Operation Ice River,” which targeted a drug trafficking organization allegedly headed by Ignacio “Nacho” Garza, 51, of Rio Grande City. Prosecutors brought charges against 25 people, including Garza’s wife, Melissa, the former city secretary for Rio Grande City; and former Starr County Justice of the Peace Roel “Role” Valadez Jr.

Reyes mailed cocaine from McAllen to “northern U.S. destinations,” Zaruba said. According to the indictment, Reyes also smuggled marijuana, including a nearly 1,500 pound shipment in November 2020.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also investigated Reyes for violating the Endangered Species Act.

In April 2021, according to the indictment against him, Reyes acquired a five-week-old female jaguar “intended for sacrifice.”

Asked about the incident, the Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed a “young jaguar” had been confiscated “near the Brownsville Port of Entry” but declined to release any details. The Gladys Porter Zoo, which received the jaguar, also declined to comment.

Reyes apparently fled to Mexico after the government started making arrests, according to a motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Reyes left his girlfriend, Liliana Resendez-Garza, and their children behind in Mission.

In April, however, Resendez-Garza met with Reyes in Monterrey and Cancun. The government obtained a photo of them together at the airport in Monterrey.

Pedro Ramirez, a special agent with the Criminal Investigation division of the IRS, testified about the trip during a hearing on May 3.

Reyes was “found in Mexico, and deported to the United States through Tijuana,” according to the motion, which doesn’t explain how the government located him.

Reyes is charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of possession in the drug case. He’s also charged with one count of violating the Endangered Species Act for “unlawfully taking, by harassing or harming,” the jaguar.

If convicted on the drug conspiracy charge, Reyes faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

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