Feds Consider Bond for Jovita’s Defendants – More to Come
Pardo in court on Thursday
By Jordan Smith, 6:28PM, Tue. Jun. 26, 2012
A handful of defendants arrested in last week's bust of an alleged heroin-trafficking ring connected to Amado Pardo – whose family owns the legendary South Austin restaurant Jovita's – appeared for bond hearings in federal court today. However, the hearing for Pardo, whom the feds describe as the ringleader, has been postponed until Thursday morning.
Police on June 21 arrested 18 people (including the 64-year-old Amado Pardo) alleged to be involved in an "extensive heroin distribution operation" that police say was centered at Jovita's. Moreover, at a press conference, police charged that Pardo, his brother José, and associate Michael Martinez, are long-time members of the Texas Syndicate, a violent Texas gang that is a major player in the narcotics trade, operating both inside and outside Texas prisons.
Although the joint federal-state-local investigation – dubbed “Muerte Negra” (Black Death) – lasted just a year, Austin Police Department Cmdr. Donald Baker told reporters that many of the players arrested have been longtime players in the heroin trade, "some going back 30 years." Police said that Jovita's, a Tex-Mex joint better known as a live music venue, was a center for the distribution ring, where meetings were held and deals were done.
Pardo appeared in court briefly today (Tuesday), but his lawyer, veteran Austin defender Ben Florey, asked that his detention hearing be reset for June 28. The hearings are set for federal magistrate Judge Mark Lane (a former federal prosecutor appointed to the bench earlier this year) to decide whether the defendants in the case should be held without bond until the case is finally resolved or should be granted bond, with restrictions designed to ensure that they stay out of trouble and show up for all court hearings.
Indeed, three defendants, Jorge Carillo, Leah Day, and Jeffrey Finn, were each granted release on bond; two defendants, Lucy Estrada and Terry Ayers waived their right to a hearing.
Additional details about the government's evidence emerged when Lane called Dionicio Sanchez's case for hearing. According to testimony from 21-year veteran FBI Special Agent Steve Hause, the year-long heroin-trafficking investigation included several court-ordered wiretaps obtained in March, on phone lines associated with Amado Pardo, Carillo, and Alfredo Alvarez. Law enforcement officers listened to "thousands" of hours of calls, which eventually led them to Sanchez, who Hause said was a close associate of Michael Martinez, another of the defendants, who Hause described as one of Pardo's "main heroin distributors."
According to Hause, Martinez regularly met with Pardo at one of his properties to pick up packaged heroin and take it back "to the Eastside and distribute it." When Martinez got popped for possession by local cops, the Pardo-led crew knew Martinez would soon be heading to prison and so began grooming Sanchez to take Martinez's place, Hause said. Sanchez would "assume [Martinez's] duties when Martinez went away on [the] state heroin charge," Hause testified. Surveillance of the men led them to Sanchez's house on Chote Avenue, and to a property known by the defendants as "the shop," a lot on Shady Lane surrounded by a high fence with a gate.
Eventually, Hause said that Sanchez worked to broker firearms deals for Pardo, including setting up the purchase of a weapon that Sanchez allegedly said "looked like an AK[-47]" but "shoots .22s." The gun was purchased for $300, though neither Sanchez nor Pardo, because they're both convicted felons, is allowed to possess firearms. (Hause said he believed that the arms Pardo was attempting to amass would later be given to Mexican drug cartel members.)
Sanchez's home and "the shop" were included in the June 21 raid of properties associated with the defendants indicted as part of the alleged heroin-dealing ring. (Fifteen were charged with federal offenses, while four were charged with state felonies; 18 were picked up last week, one remained at large. Among the properties seized was Jovita's.) At Sanchez's home, Hause said officers found heroin wrapped in balloons (18 balloons held together with black tape would contain roughly an ounce of heroin to be be sold for $200 "wholesale" or $20 per balloon on the street); more than 50 of the black wrappings used to bind each of the 18-packs; a scale "commonly used" for "processing and packing" drugs, Hause said; and more than 225 rounds of 7.62 mm ammo along with numerous rounds of hollow-point 9mm ammunition and an old bolt-action rifle.
Although Hause said he wasn't sure that the bolt-action gun worked – and Sanchez's sister, Velia Sanchez, testified that the old gun, which she'd found in the Chote Ave. home after her mother died, did not work when she tried to dry-fire it, Judge Lane nonetheless declined to release Sanchez on bond. In part, he said that although Veila testified that she did not believe that her brother had used alcohol or drugs since being diagnosed with cirrhosis in 2010, Sanchez told a caseworker with the federal pretrial services office that he had been using heroin "daily" for the last nine months and continued to drink "socially," Lane said. "[G]iven his health situation, I feel like I'm doing him a favor" by keeping him in jail while the case is pending."
Pardo and the remaining defendants are scheduled to appear in Lane's court at 9am on June 28.