Trial Begins in Heroin-Trafficking Case

Was Jovita's a hub for drug dealing?

Trial Begins in Heroin-Trafficking Case

To hear the feds tell it, Jose Pardo and Jorge Carrillo were key to an extensive heroin-trafficking enterprise operating for years out of Jovita's Tex-Mex restaurant in South Austin. Defense attorneys counter that the feds lack any definitive proof that either man was involved at all. A jury seated today will be tasked with deciding which story is true.

Pardo and Carrillo* are among 15 individuals who last summer were charged federally as being part of a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute large quantities of heroin, the result of year-long joint federal-state-local investigation Operation Muerte Negra, or Black Death. Jose Pardo is the older brother of recently-deceased Amado "Mayo" Pardo, the patriarch of Jovita's who the feds allege was the kingpin of a heroin-trafficking operation that was in operation for years.

According to Austin Police Detective William Flannery, assigned to a joint-FBI task force investigating criminal conspiracies and gangs, he'd heard about the Pardo operation for years and even went back to a 2005 Pardo "organization" chart that had been included in an old investigative file when he again began digging into the alleged drug ring as part of his assignment with the FBI back in early 2011. (Why, exactly, the previous investigations didn't succeed wasn't entirely clear during the trial's first-day testimony.)

Although Amado Pardo, 64, died last month, a result of complications from cancer and other ailments, he was a clear focus of the opening hours of trial testimony, wherein he was described as a criminal ringleader who isolated himself from interacting directly with his street-level dealers. On Monday afternoon Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Guess and Elizabeth Cottingham read aloud transcripts of various phone conversations between members of the alleged drug ring – including conversations where Amado Pardo arranged for dealers to score more product (an 18-pack of balloons each filled with roughly 2.5 grams of heroin, all carried in a knotted plastic baggie made up a typical order – and eight of those together was known as a "ball," Flannery testified), or asked his wife, Amanda, to come home so she could show him where on their property on Milton Street, just behind the restaurant, she'd hidden the drugs.

Notably absent so far is any substantial mention of Jose Pardo or Jorge Carrillo, who are the two actually on trial this week. Indeed, according to defense attorneys Rip Collins and Stephen Orr (representing Carillo and Pardo, respectively) the feds have very little at all to connect their clients to the alleged heroin ring. In the case of Carrillo, who Guess said during opening arguments actually supplied the heroin to Amado Pardo, Collins told jurors that the feds never caught Carrillo with any heroin – but that it wasn't for a lack of looking. FBI agent Steve Hause confirmed that a GPS tracking device had been installed on Carrillo's car and that he was also surveilled by police and agents, but that he was never caught with any drugs. When he was arrested, Carrillo gave law enforcement permission to search his double wide trailer in Caldwell County; no drugs were found there either, though agents did recover $22,000 in a trash bag.

The money is easily – and legally – explained, Collins said: Carrillo is into quarter horse training, not heroin dealing. (Of course that doesn't necessarily clear him either – recall the federal indictments handed down last summer charging members of the Los Zetas drug cartel with laundering drug money via American Quarter Horse racing.)

As for Jose Pardo, Orr told jurors that when law enforcement searched his home they did find heroin and related paraphernalia, but that doesn't mean that he was part of the alleged criminal enterprise. Indeed, back in July, when Orr was trying to get Pardo out on bond he said that Jose had recently detoxed from heroin use.

Nonetheless, Guess appeared confident that the government would be able to prove its case. Indeed, in addition to several hundred transcribed wiretapped phone calls – jurors were each given a large white binder containing all of the transcripts the government has submitted as evidence – Guess said that prosecutors would call to testify other members of the conspiracy who have pleaded guilty to their crimes and who will describe not only their role in the drug gang, but also the roles of Pardo and Carrillo, Guess said. The government is "going to show you how a heroin-trafficking organization really works," he said.

The trial is expected to continue through Thursday.

*Carrillo's name was misspelled in the earlier version of this post.

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Police, Drugs, Jovita's, Jose Pardo, Amado Pardo, FBI, drug trafficking, Jorge Carillo, courts, Drug War, Austin Police Department, APD, Daniel Guess, Elizabeth Cottingham, Steve Hause, William Flannery, Stephen Orr, Rip Collins

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