A man with known ties to a Mexican drug cartel that has been wanted by federal authorities for nearly eight years has been caught.
Benjamin Valeriano, Jr. is being held in the Midland County Jail without bond. He was arrested January 4th 2020 by US Marshals in connection to a 2012 drug trafficking case.
He's accused of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to manufacture and import cocaine, laundering of monetary instruments, firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to import marijuana.
An indictment was originally issued for Valeriano and 16 other people in January of 2012 in connection to a large DEA drug operation. That indictment grew to include 26 people connected to the drug operation in May of 2012.
Court documents state that the group was connected to a large drug trafficking operation, making, transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana throughout West Texas from 2009 until 2012.
Documents also attach the group to money laundering and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking.
As a result of the charges brought forth in 2012, the group forfeited several vehicles and weapons.
Chapter one: Who is "El Cachitas"?
Benjamin Valeriano, Jr., also known as Mario Hernández Cázares or "El Cachitas", was born in Pecos, Texas in 1980.
Tragedy struck he and his family at a young age. Online archives of the Pecos Enterprise Newspaper show Valeriano's mother was killed in a traffic incident in 1995.
Benjamin Valeriano, Sr. was originally charged with murder after police found he had been assaulting his wife and chasing her. During the chase her car failed to turn properly and caused her to strike a concrete signpost at a high speed.
Valeriano, Sr. pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of criminal negligent homicide. He was placed on five years community supervision, fined $500 and ordered to pay $164.50 in court costs.
Benjamin Valeriano, Jr., is now listed on the United States Drug Enforcement Administration as one of the most wanted fugitives.
Federal authorities believe he is the leader of the Ojinaga Plaza for the La Línea Drug Trafficking Organization. According to Televisa, Valeriano is believed to have begun his criminal activity in 1998 as a drug dealer in the United States.
He later moved to Ojinaga, Chihuahua and started entering the ranks of La Línea leadership around 2005.
As of now, Valeriano has been indicted and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute.
Charges detailed in the 2012 indictments include possession of firearms, money laundering, possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana. Until now, those documents have been sealed.
MORE ON VALERIANO'S ARREST:
Chapter two: Barnaby Gabaldon
The FBI believes Valeriano may be connected to the disappearance of an Odessa man in 2012.
Barnaby Alfredo Gabaldon graduated from Permian High School and attended Odessa College not long before he disappeared.
According to family members, Gabaldon, his father and his brother-in-law were kidnapped while in Ojinaga, Mexico on February 11, 2102.
Just a few days before the three men disappeared, the U.S. Department of State had issued a travel warning for Mexico in response to the escalation in violence. The major concern addressed by the warning was the rise in kidnappings and disappearances.
Family told NewsWest 9 back in 2012 a friend saw Gabaldon and his family being pulled over on the road and taken by Mexican police officers. However law enforcement denied taking the men.
The Drug Enforcement Administration in Midland also refused to comment on-camera back in 2012, but confirmed they believed there was a possible link between Valeriano and the missing men.
The FBI launched its investigation shortly after Gabaldon's disappearance but never publicly commented on why there was a link between him and the cartel leader.
Agents had been investigating Valeriano's links to criminal activity for a while before he was arrested in Mexico City in July 2012.
MORE ON THE GABALDON CASE:
Chapter three: Drug trafficking
The FBI believes Valeriano is the leader of the Ojinaga Plaza for the La Línea Drug Trafficking Organization.
The former leader of La Línea, Jose Antonio Acosta-Hernandez, pleaded guilty in April 2012 to charges related to drug-trafficking and numerous acts of violence. He was sentenced to life in prison, according to the US Department of Justice.
Acosta-Hernandez admitted to authorities he had become the leader of La Línea in 2008. Court evidence showed La Línea formed an alliance with the Barrio Azteca, a violent street and prison gang.
An indictment was originally issued for Valeriano and sixteen other people in January of 2012 in connection to a large DEA drug operation.
Court documents state that the group was connected to a large drug operation making and distributing cocaine and marijuana throughout West Texas from 2009 until 2012.
According to an archived article from FBI.gov, 24 people were indicted with conspiracy to possess, with intent to distribute cocaine and/or marijuana.
Of that 24, 19 of them were arrested in February 2012 in an investigation called "Operation Communication Breakdown."
The investigation targeted a cocaine and marijuana distribution operation in West Texas.
The FBI believes these 24 people were responsible for the distribution of over 500 kilograms of cocaine and 100 kilograms of marijuana from January 2010 to the time of their arrest.
The list of people charged included 15 people from Odessa, three from Presidio, two from Lubbock, one from Midland and two from Mexico.
Valeriano was named in the 2012 indictment and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested January 4th, 2020.
Chapter four: What's next?
The next step in Valeriano’s case is a docket call. That is scheduled for February 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald C. Griffin.
Right now, his jury trial is set to begin March 2 in Midland County. Jury selection will begin that morning at 8:30.
Valeriano's trial comes just over eight years after his initial indictment and the disappearance of Gabaldon and the two other men.