The Juarez drug cartel is probably the most powerful gang in Mexico. Its founder, Amado Carrillo, earned the cinematic nickname "El Señor de los Cielos" or "Lord of the Skies," after his cartel stripped a Boeing 727 passenger jet to fly tons of cocaine to the United States. In 1997, as Mexican and American authorities were closing in on him, he died on the operating table during botched plastic surgery intended to alter his appearance. His brother Carillo Fuentes took over the family business until last week, when Mexican agents arrested the architect and father they claim is really an insidious drug lord.
In September 2004, Jose Hernandez, believed to be a member of the same legendary Juarez cartel, was indicted in federal court in Nashville on five counts of kidnapping charges, after his own grandfather was abducted in Mexico for ransom. Shortly after that, Hernandez responded in kind. His target: a Nashville drug dealer who stiffed him on payments for shipments of cocaine and marijuana. Now Hernandez and four of his henchmen are scattered in county jails across the midstate awaiting trial in a real-life drama that could have been conceived in Hollywood.
In early 2004, the FBI believes that Jose Hernandez was looking to ship marijuana and cocaine from Mexico to Nashville. A legal immigrant and father of three children all born in the United States, Hernandez and his family lived in Dalton, Ga. He would later tell authorities that he had been employed since being in the United States, but people close to him implicated him in a string of kidnappings and drug deals.
Through a local factory worker, Hernandez, whose nickname is "Chuma," met Nashville resident Juan Chavez, who was to help Hernandez grow his criminal enterprise into Middle Tennessee. Over the next six months, the FBI believes that the 45-year-old Hernandez dealt a staggering 2,500 pounds of marijuana and 10 kilos of cocaine to Chavez, over $1 million worth of drugs. But their partnership soured quickly when Chavez, who was himself an established dealer, couldn't make the payments on the drugs Hernandez was shipping to Nashville. Apparently, he had been buying the cocaine and marijuana on credit.
Right around this time, Hernandez's grandfather was kidnapped in Mexico. It's not entirely clear why, but one reason could be that Chavez put him in a bind. Without Chavez's payments, Hernandez couldn't in turn pay his supplier. So then, the speculation goes, a higher-ranking member of the Juarez cartel abducted Hernandez's grandfather and held him for ransom.
In early August 2004, Hernandez and his friend visited Jose Borrego in Dalton, Ga., where Borrego worked at a carpet factory. Borrego was the one who introduced Hernandez to Chavez, and now the scorned drug dealer wanted to know where in Nashville he could find his delinquent partner. Borrego later told authorities that he led Hernandez to where Chavez lived, but nobody was home. The two returned to Georgia. Two days later, on Aug. 7, Hernandez drove back to Nashville in a red truck, followed by Borrego and a few others in a van. They returned to Chavez's home and slammed the door down. In Chavez's house was his mother, his 13-year-old niece and his mother's boyfriend. Chavez wasn't there.
At gunpoint, Hernandez and his henchmen kidnapped the family and drove them more than two hours away to a vacant house in Georgia that authorities believe Hernandez owned. There, a friend of his named Juan Perez allegedly threatened to rape the 13-year-old girl. He also threatened to kill the girl's grandmother (Chavez's mother) and send her dead body to Mexico. When authorities later showed the woman a picture of Perez, she started to cry, identified him by his nickname "Anaconda" and said, "he's a very bad person."
While Chavez's family was being held in the vacant house, they overheard phone conversations between Hernandez and Chavez that if a $100,000 ransom wasn't paid, they would be executed. The next morning, the hostages were taken to a Super 8 in Dalton, Ga., and were tied, bound and gagged. Authorities later said that the drug dealers didn't always have someone on guard to keep tabs on the three victims, but told them if they tried to escape, they'd kill their family members. The three stayed put the entire time.
Meanwhile, either because he couldn't come up with the ransom money or didn't trust Hernandez and his gang of kidnappers, Chavez called the Metro Police Department and spoke to a vice detective. Coming clean, Chavez admitted that he was involved in botched drug deals with Hernandez that resulted in the abduction of his family. The police recorded calls between Chavez, Hernandez and Perez; the three agreed to meet in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on Nolensville Road and Old Hickory two days after the kidnapping. There, Chavez was supposed to bring $100,000 and the title to his car. Hernandez seemed to realize that something wasn't quite right. That day, he called Chavez and told him to walk across the street to the Babies R Us parking lot. He then drove away before Chavez could meet him, but Metro police apprehended him and Perez before they could get away. In the car was a handgun.
In the preliminary hearing a few days later, FBI agent Bret Curtis testified that Perez admitted his role in the kidnapping and gave up two of the other henchmen who were parked in a van nearby. He also told the officers where the family was being held, and the police contacted Georgia authorities, who found the abductees safe and unharmed. Hernandez admitted to his starring role in the kidnappingand said that he organized the abduction because his grandfather was being held captive.
Although Hernandez and his fellow kidnappers seemed to have implicated themselves in the crime, they've all entered not-guilty pleas. A May 31 trial has been postponed, with no new date scheduled. Chavez, meanwhile, awaits federal drug charges.
Incredibly, Hernandez has been implicated in other kidnappings too. One of the co-defendants in this case, Hector Saul Mendez, told authorities that Hernandez abducted him a month earlier and later forced him to take part in the kidnapping of Chavez's family. Meanwhile, court papers say that Hernandez was discussing yet another planned abduction.
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