by Victor Lopez
MIDLAND--An attempted murder investigation was the smoking gun federal agents needed to put them on the trail of Barrio Azteca.
Barrio Azteca is a Texas prison gang that has made it's way to the Permian Basin. The group faces a laundry list of charges stemming from an almost two year long investigation.
The investigation deals with suspected racketeering activities, something we don't hear too much of in West Texas. Local DEA agents say a total of six arrests were made on Tuesday, in addition to the Barrio Azteca members who were already in custody.
According to a federal grand jury indictment, nine of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to posses and intent to sell more than five kilograms of cocaine and marijuana.
Some of these are federal RICO violations. RICO stand for Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization statutes.
The indictment alleges the conspiracy had been going on since January 2006 through the smuggling and distribution of cocaine and marijuana as well as acts of violence and intimidation in and around the Midland/Odessa area.
But it was an investigation into a narcotics conspiracy and an attempted murder in the Tall City in 2009 that put the feds on the trail of Barrio Azteca.
According to DEA Agent Dante Sorianello, "As we continued our investigation, we determined that the Barrio Azteca were involved in that crime, as well as involved in narcotics trafficking. We continued to investigate. That led us to various other crimes that were taking place in the Midland area, as well as the organizational structure of a cell of the Barrio Azteca operating here in Midland."
The U.S. Justice System in Washington D.C. has been involved in this investigation from the beginning.
As far as the racketeering charges go, the suspects face up to life in prison, if convicted. The investigation is still ongoing. More arrests are expected as agents are actively looking for one more fugitive, still on the loose.
Agent Sorianello says it's not uncommon to find Barrio Azteca members in Midland/Odessa, since it is a Texas prison gang.
He also says, it's important to remember, the reason the suspects face such serious charges is because people involved racketeering normally have extensive criminal histories and tend to keep participating in criminal activity.