A handful of defendants arrested in last week's federal-state-local bust of an alleged heroin-trafficking ring connected to Jovita's appeared for bond hearings in federal court Tuesday. But the hearing for Amado Pardo – whose family owns the legendary South Austin restaurant and whom the feds describe as the ringleader – has been postponed until Thursday morning.
Police on June 21 arrested 18 people (including 64-year-old Pardo) alleged to be involved in an "extensive heroin distribution operation" that police say was centered at Jovita's, a Tex-Mex joint better known as a live-music venue, where (allegedly) meetings were held and deals were done. Although the joint investigation – dubbed "Muerte Negra" (Black Death) – lasted just a year, the Austin Police Department said many of those arrested have been longtime players in the heroin trade, "some going back 30 years."
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 investigation included several court-ordered wiretaps obtained in March, on phone lines associated with Pardo, Jorge Carrillo, and Alfredo Alvarez. Law enforcement officers listened to "thousands" of hours of calls, which eventually led them to Sanchez. Hause described Sanchez as a close associate of Michael Martinez, another of the defendants and one of Pardo's "main heroin distributors."
Hause said 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 began grooming Sanchez to take his place, Hause said. Surveillance of the men led them to Sanchez's house on Chote Street, and to a property known by the defendants as "the shop," a fenced lot on Shady Lane.
Sanchez's home and "the shop" were included in the June 21 raid of properties associated with the defendants. At Sanchez's home, Hause said, officers found heroin wrapped in balloons (18 balloons bound together would contain roughly an ounce of heroin, to be sold for $200 "wholesale" or $20 per balloon); 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 hundreds of rounds of ammunition and an old bolt-action rifle.
Pardo and the remaining defendants are scheduled to appear in Lane's court at 9am today, June 28. See updates on the story on our Newsdesk blog.
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