Car-lot raids tied to Juárez drug cartel
by Daniel Borunda \ El Paso Times
Posted: 02/11/2011 12:00:00 AM MST

Federal raids at three used-car lots on Alameda Avenue were part of an undercover investigation into alleged narco-traffickers belonging to two groups linked to the Juárez drug cartel.

The U.S. Attorney's Office on Thursday said six men were arrested Wednesday and Tuesday and an additional six were previously arrested as part of the two drug-trafficking cases.

"There was a connection between the (two) investigations, but I can't get into details of that investigation," said Special Agent Diana Apodaca, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in El Paso.

The cases are named the Nuñez Operation and the Pinedo Operation in a federal news release.

On Wednesday morning, more than a dozen FBI and DEA agents and El Paso County sheriff's deputies rushed into Budget Auto Sales, 7725 Alameda; Walt Motor Co., 7729 Alameda; and Melendez Auto Sales, across the street.

Alejandro Melendez, 31, owner of Budget Auto Sales, was arrested Tuesday. Abraham Melendez, 21, was arrested at one of the car lots Wednesday.

The raids - conducted by the FBI and DEA El Paso Strike Force - were part of the Nuñez Operation, targeting a group accused of distributing more than 5 kilos of cocaine throughout the El Paso area.

The operation is apparently named after Adrian Nuñez, 36, of El Paso.
Nuñez was first questioned in August 2009 after law enforcement found "16 bricks of cocaine" at his home, according to court records. He was not arrested until a year later, when he was released on $20,000 bond.

Nuñez was rearrested this week after he was named in the indictment used to charge the other men. Officials said one person, Carlos Armando Bernal Quintero, 30, of El Paso, remains a fugitive.

Before this week's arrest, Nuñez was reportedly working on a plea agreement with the federal government, court records show.

The U.S. government seeks the forfeiture of at least two properties, including the Budget Auto Sales car lot and a $653,000 home (listed in property tax records as belonging to Alejandro Melendez) in the 5500 block of Woodgreen Drive in the Upper Valley, documents stated.

The Pinedo Operation is apparently named after Juan Gerardo Pinedo, 33, of Sunland Park, who is accused of directing a ring dealing in cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Pinedo, according to a complaint affidavit, was also dealing with an undercover El Paso police officer posing as a person hired to transport 20 kilos of cocaine to Philadelphia last fall.

"Pinedo was positively identified during the meeting with the undercover officer and observed conducting counter-surveillance during the drug transaction by El Paso police officers conducting surveillance," the affidavit stated.

Apodaca, of the DEA, said eight people face drug-conspiracy charges in the Pinedo case.

"Our intelligence tells us they are aligned with the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes rganization," she said. She was referring to the reputed head of the Juárez drug cartel, which is involved in a bloody turf war with the Sinaloa drug cartel.

At least 18 slayings occurred Thursday in Juárez. Since 2008, there have been more than 7,200 slayings.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at; 546-6102.


Thirteen men were indicted by a federal grand jury on drug-trafficking charges. One remains a fugitive. All are from El Paso, except where noted.

Nuñez Operation arrests

Adrian Nuñez, 36.

Alejandro Melendez, 31.

Abraham Melendez, 21.

Juan Justino Barragan Purata, 37.

Carlos Armando Bernal Quintero, 30.*
Pinedo Operation arrests

Juan Gerardo Pinedo, 33, of Sunland Park.

Miguel Humberto Lerma, 27.

Jorge Magdaleno, 27.

Ruben Salcedo, 35, of San Elizario.

Yoshio Acosta, 26.

Heriberto Guardian Madera, 47, Mexican citizen living in El Paso.

Uriel Quiñonez, 28.

Thomas Aldama, 41.
Source: U.S. Attorney's Office. *Fugitive