An employee for a U.S. attorney is accused of tipping off a Mexican drug cartel about federal investigations in Texas, the FBI says.
Jennifer Loya, a paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas, was charged with conspiracy to distribute meth, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to court records.
Loya was hired as a legal assistant by the office in March 2017, and she was promoted to a paralegal specialist position just three months ago, according to the FBI.
She had access to sensitive law enforcement information about electronic surveillance, tracking warrants, pen registers — the devices that can trace outgoing phone call information — and other records.
“As a result, she is in a position to understand the intricacies of electronic surveillance by law enforcement,” an FBI agent said in court documents. “Jennifer Loya is suspected of disclosing sensitive law enforcement information pertaining to active DEA investigations to members of drug trafficking organizations.”
NORESTE CARTEL CONNECTION
The case against Loya began when the DEA started investigating Israel Fernandez-Vasquez, a leader of the Cartel de Noreste based in Monterrey, Mexico, in late 2018. A DEA informant who spent time in prison with Fernandez-Vasquez arranged to buy a pound of meth from the cartel leader’s associate in San Antonio he identified for investigators as Roland Gustamante, according to court records.
Gustamante is accused of running a narcotics smuggling operation that brought drugs to San Antonio from Mexico, and his wife, Kimberly Loya, was in charge of smuggling the cashback into Mexico, the FBI says. Loya is Jennifer Loya’s sister.
Kimberly Loya used a white Mitsubishi — which is registered to her sister — to transport the drug money across the U.S.-Mexico border 21 times between May 2019 and January 2020, according to court records.
DRUG TRAFFICKERS’ INFORMANT
DEA agents have identified several drug-trafficking operations in San Antonio connected to Gustamante, including those led by Frankie Martinez and Jonathan Chapa, the FBI said. Chapa is Gustamante’s cousin.
When the DEA nabbed Frankie Martinez in May 2019, he told an agent that he knew they were coming to arrest him. The targets of several search warrants had “moved during the night,” and the agents found barely any drugs, according to the DEA.
In February, a member of the Martinez drug operation told investigators that a woman he knew only as “Maria” arrived at his home and said he and others are the targets of a DEA investigation based on sensitive law enforcement documents she obtained, according to court records.
Members of the Chapa operation also told investigators that a source was providing information about law enforcement. In March, a member told the DEA that Gustamante received information from a person working for the U.S. government, including grand jury indictments and knowledge of an associate of the drug traffickers acting as an informant, according to records.
THE CASE AGAINST LOYA
In late March, the DEA executed a search warrant of cellphones recovered during Chapa’s arrest. Text messages show Gustamante warning Chapa that another drug trafficker had “snitched” and that law enforcement was going to arrest him and others, the FBI said. He warned Chapa to move the drugs, according to court documents.
A member of the Chapa operation told investigators that Gustamante’s sister-in-law works as a paralegal for the U.S. government and that she’s worked for drug traffickers for “an extended period of time” and compromised previous investigations, according to court documents.
In mid-April, Chapa’s aunt also contacted the DEA to tell agents her nephew had “bragged” about an inside government source who worked as a legal assistant, the FBI said.
Loya is accused of printing a pen register application that she processed for one of Chapa’s and Gustamante’s associates even though she “had no reason to print the document” due to protocol. Investigators say they also watched Loya’s computer remotely as she accessed other records that she had no legitimate reason to access.
Loya’s sister, Kimberly, was interviewed by law enforcement last week and told investigators that her sister had warned her of Chapa’s arrest and “to be careful,” according to court documents. Loya also told investigators that her sister informed her of a document that Gustamante was under investigation, the FBI said.
Gustamante and Kimberly Loya were charged with money laundering and drug trafficking. They were arrested last week.
US ATTORNEY’S RESPONSE
Loya was arrested last Thursday and released from Guadalupe County Jail on Monday, jail records show.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas told McClatchy News that Loya is employed by the office, but she is on administrative leave. She underwent a full background investigation by the U.S. Office of Personnel and Management, the spokesman said.