MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. federal agent shot dead one of four men facing arrest in South Texas for being part of a murder-for-hire squad enlisted by undercover agents posing as Mexican drug cartel members, according to court documents released on Monday.
A Drug Enforcement Administration agent shot Jerome Corley on Saturday in Laredo, Texas, where federal authorities busted three men, including an Army sergeant and a recently discharged officer, who thought they would be hired as assassins for Mexico’s brutal Zetas drug cartel.
The Zetas was founded around a group of elite Mexican troops that went rogue to work for the Gulf cartel, south of Texas. They later split to build their own extremely violent and well armed group involved in drug trafficking, kidnap and extortion.
Among the arrested was Corley’s cousin Kevin Corley, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colo., who served in Afghanistan and was discharged from the Army on March 13, according to an Army spokeswoman; Samuel Walker, 28, of Colorado Springs, an active-duty sergeant, according to a spokeswoman at Fort Carson; and Shavar Davis, 29, of Denver.
The DEA launched the sting operation in January 2011, after two men in South Carolina told undercover agents posing as Zetas members about Kevin Corley, who the men said could sell the agents fully automatic weapons and sniper rifles, a criminal complaint states.
Kevin Corley told undercover agents that he was an Army officer who trained soldiers and could provide a murder-for-hire team to raid a ranch and recover 20 kilograms of cocaine stolen by a rival cartel, the complaint states.
He said he would carry out the contract killing with his cousin for $50,000 and five kilograms of cocaine, the complaint states. He offered to refund the money if the team did not retrieve the Zetas’ cocaine and execute their rival.
On March 5, Kevin Corley sold two AR-15 assault rifles with scopes, an Airsoft assault rifle, five stolen ballistic vests and other equipment to an undercover DEA agent for $10,000 in Colorado Springs, Colo., prosecutors said.
At that meeting, Corley discussed the murder-for-hire job with the undercover agent, saying he had purchased a new Ka-Bar knife to carve a “Z” in the victim’s chest — a calling card of the Zetas cartel — and a hatchet to dismember his body, the complaint states.
The operation reached its climax on Saturday in Laredo, when undercover agents confirmed that Corley and three others were ready to move forward with the supposed cartel assassination, the complaint states.
Undercover agents called for an arrest team to detain the four men. Shortly thereafter, an agent fired several shots that struck and killed Jerome Corley, the complaint states.
Davis, Walker and Kevin Corley remain in federal custody pending a detention hearing on federal drug conspiracy and weapons charges in Laredo. Kevin Corley was a first lieutenant who was on active duty in the Army from November 19, 2008 to March 13, 2012, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Laurel Devine. Walker is assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., according to Dee McNutt, a spokeswoman at Fort Carson.
Agents also arrested Marcus Mickle, 20, and Calvin Epps, 26, in South Carolina on drug conspiracy charges. They are accused of working with Walker and Kevin Corley to move loads of cocaine and marijuana between South Carolina and Texas.
Also arrested was Mario Corley, 40, of Saginaw, Texas, a cousin of Kevin Corley’s who is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
The most serious charge lodged in the case - conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine - carries between 10 years and life in prison and up to a $10 million fine.
Situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, Laredo is bordered to the south by Nuevo Laredo, considered by the DEA to be a stronghold of the Zetas drug cartel.
Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in raging cartel-related violence across Mexico since late 2006.
Editing By Corrie MacLaggan