By Jen Kastner
MIDLAND- In an exclusive interview with the FBI, NewsWest 9 learned of the potential ties between a top drug cartel leader captured in Mexico over the weekend and the disappearances of three men in Ojinaga back in February, one of whom was a U.S. citizen from Odessa.
32-year-old Benjamin Valeriano, Junior, was arrested in Mexico City over the weekend. Valeriano was a top cartel member who was engaged in drug trafficking operations in West Texas.
The FBI tells NewsWest 9 he may be linked to the disappearance of 22-year-old Barnaby Gabaldon, a citizen of the United States, who resided in Odessa, along with the disappearances of his brother-in-law David Garcia and his father Alfredo Gabaldon, both of whom are Mexican nationals.
FBI-Midland's Senior Supervisory Resident Agent, A. Lamar Pruitt, says, "We're actively investigating Valeriano's possible connection to any other criminal activity, including the kidnapping of [Barnaby] Gabaldon who used to reside in Odessa, and his other family members. [However], our main interest is in the U.S. citizen, Barnaby Gabaldon."
A friend of the missing men's family reportedly witnessed the three men being kidnapped by Mexican authorities.
The FBI tells NewsWest9 they've had very few leads as to where these men might be.
"To date, we've only received one [lead] and we're actively pursuing that information to see if it does lead to any additional information," Pruitt said.
However, this news of a possible link to Valeriano's operations may change that.
The FBI will not comment at this time as to exactly how the missing men and this top drug member may be connected.
The Drug Enforcement Administration in Midland would not comment on-camera but they said they also believe there is a possible link.
For now, the FBI is still pushing for more answers.
"We will continue to pursue the investigation until either we find him or recover his remains," Pruitt said.
On Wednesday, NewsWest 9 spoke with a close family member of the missing men. That person wishes to remain anonymous but says the family is shocked to hear about this possible connection. That family member also says this news gives them a small amount of hope that authorities may be one step closer to finding the men.