The Austin Chronicle

Jovita's Trial Begins

By Jordan Smith, February 15, 2013, News

To hear the feds tell it, Jose Pardo and Jorge Carrillo were key to a vast 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 this week will be tasked with deciding which story is true.

Pardo and Carrillo are among 15 individuals who last summer were charged federally with being part of a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute large quantities of heroin, the result of a yearlong joint investigation called Operation Muerte Negra, or Black Death. Jose Pardo is the older brother of recently deceased Amado "Mayo" Pardo, 64, the Jovita's patriarch who the feds allege was the kingpin of an extensive heroin-trafficking operation.

Although Amado died last month, he was a clear focus during the first two days of testimony, wherein he was described as a criminal ringleader. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Guess and Elizabeth Cot­ting­ham read aloud for jurors transcripts of various phone conversations between members of the alleged drug ring – including conversations where Amado Pardo arranged for dealers to score more product, asked his wife to come show him where on their Milton Street property she'd hidden the drugs, and talked with Carrillo about dropping by with a "piñata" and "candy" – references that Department of Public Safety investigator Dwayne Urbanovsky said were not literal.

Notably absent in the first two days of testimony was any substantial mention of Jose Pardo or of any direct evidence implicating Carril­lo. According to defense attorneys Rip Collins and Stephen Orr (representing Carrillo 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 allegedly supplied the heroin to Amado Pardo, Collins told jurors that the feds never caught Carrillo with any heroin. When he was arrested, Carrillo gave law enforcement permission to search his home in Caldwell County; no drugs were found there either, though agents did find roughly $22,000 in a plastic 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. 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. In addition to several hundred transcribed, wiretapped phone calls, Guess said prosecutors would call to testify other members of the conspiracy who have pleaded guilty to their crimes and who will describe their roles in the drug gang, as well as the roles of Pardo and Carrillo. The government is "going to show you how a heroin-trafficking organization really works," he said.

Testimony in the trial is ongoing. Follow along on Newsdesk for the full reports from court.

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