The early morning stillness of Española was interrupted by small explosions, likely flash-bang grenades or bean bag rounds, Sept. 17 as the FBI, DEA and other agencies took part in a statewide sweep arresting multiple members of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico gang, also known as SNM or the Syndicate.
New Mexico State Police were on-scene and assisting with traffic control as federal agents surrounded a trailer in the 600 block of Fairview Lane, where they expected to find David Valdez.
Between firing the unknown rounds, an agent could be heard using a loudspeaker calling for Valdez to come outside and be arrested, but Valdez was not in Española.
The investigation was part of a years-long operation targeting the notorious criminal organization, which was tied to multiple murders and attempted murders in Las Vegas, including the murder of a member-turned-informant Leroy Lucero who was shot down in his driveway last July. The murder and its connection to the raids was first reported in the Las Vegas Optic.
An FBI warrant filed Sept. 10 by FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee revealed three suspects in the immediate area, and another three suspects in Santa Fe. In addition to Valdez, agents named Leroy E. Romero as a suspect. Romero had recently moved to the Milagro Village Mobile Home Park, according to the warrant. A third local suspect, Loepoldo Salazar was listed with an address in Hernandez off of County Road 1.
Also named in the warrant as a suspect was Rufino Jody Martinez, of Truchas. He was indicted by a grand jury in the First Judicial District Court in November 2018 after he allegedly shot Donald Salazar in the leg in Cuarteles.
Martinez was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon. The case is still pending, but now he faces a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition in federal court for the same incident. Acee wrote that Martinez had been selected to carry out a hit on then New Mexico secretary of corrections Gregg Marcantel in 2014.
‘Hot in Spaña’
Acee wrote in the warrant that two other SNM gang members, Henry Felix and Dominic Sedillo were trafficking heroin from Mexico to dealers in Albuquerque and Española.
“(An informant) related Felix obtained his heroin from a source of supply in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,” Acee wrote.
Felix allegedly moved the heroin across the border using various women who then helped another man transport the drugs to Albuquerque. An informant told Acee that Felix said some of the heroin was going to Romero in Española, or as the informant put it, “Swamp in Spaña.”
The FBI got information in early August that Romero and other SNM members in Española had a new heroin supplier, this time from El Paso, Texas , Acee wrote. He learned that the three were smuggling heroin and suboxone into the Santa Fe Adult Correctional Facility and the Penitentiary of New Mexico in fake legal mail and through in-person visits.
Sometime during the month of September, confidential informants reported to agents that Martinez was at the Santa Fe jail and allegedly ordered other gang members to be ready to assault or kill anyone who failed to pay their drug debts.
Acee wrote Felix had supplied heroin to Romero, Valdez and Salazar in Española before he was arrested at the end of July.
“I am unaware of who may have taken (Felix’s) place as the source of supply to the Española SNM members,” Acee wrote.
At the beginning of September Romero left a parole meeting and went to a mobile home at Milagro Village Mobile Home Park, Acee wrote. As he did, FBI Safe Streets Gang Task Force agents followed him. They were able to determine he had just moved there.
An informant reported receiving a warning from Romero that things were “hot in Spaña” and that the “feds were hitting vatos.”
Another informant asked Valdez and Salazar if either had heroin for sale; both said they did.
FBI agents along with Task Force members and New Mexico State Police executed the federal warrants before 6 a.m. on Sept. 19 in Española and the surrounding area, the same time that warrants were being served in Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Belen.
At Salazar’s residence, agents found a magazine with eight .22-caliber rounds. FBI Special Agent Thomas Neale charged Salazar with possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.
There are no records showing whether or not Romero was arrested or charged with any crime as a result of the raid.
Valdez, whose Fairview Lane home was the subject of much early morning noise, was later found in Otero County allegedly on his way to El Paso, Texas.
Filing Agent Juan Jimenez filed a criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico Sept. 23 charging Valdez with conspiracy to move an alien, after a car he was driving in attempted to avoid an immigration checkpoint.