The order was clear: Kill the guy in the Astros jersey.
But in a case of mistaken identity, Jose Perez ended up dead. The intended target the Houston-based head of a Mexican drug cartel cell pumping millions of dollars of cocaine into the city walked away.
Perez, 27, was just a working guy, out getting dinner late on a Friday with his wife and young children at Chilos, a seafood restaurant on the Gulf Freeway.
His murder and the assassination gone awry point to the perilous presence of Mexican organized crime and how cartel violence has seeped into the city.
Arrests came in December when police and federal agents got a break in the 2006 shooting as they charted the relationship and rivalries between at least five cartel cells operating in Houston. A rogues gallery of about 100 names and mug shots taken at Texas jails and morgues offers a blueprint for Mexican organized crime.
Houston has long been a major staging ground for importing illegal drugs from Mexico and shipping them to the rest of the United States, but a recent Department of Justice report notes it is one of 230 cities where cartels maintain distribution networks and supply lines.
At Chilos, the real crime boss was sitting at another table, as were two spotters. The hitman waited in the parking lot for Perez to leave the restaurant.
I just remember that guy coming up to us and he started shooting and shooting and shooting and never stopped, said Norma Gonzalez, Perezs widow. He was hit twice.
I know they will pay for what they have done, maybe in the next life, she said of Perezs killers. I dont know what is going to happen to them in this life.
The gangster captured on surveillance video blended in with other customers as they gawked at the aftermath. A few months later, he was dead too, gunned down two miles from the restaurant.
It is here and it has been here, but people dont want to listen, Rick Moreno, a Houston police homicide investigator working with the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI, said of the cartels presence in Houston. “It is so far-reaching>”
Washington is taking notice, even if the toll on U.S. streets is nowhere near as pervasive as in Mexico, where cartels are locked in a war against one another and with the government.
International drug trafficking organizations pose a sustained, serious threat to the safety and security of our communities, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. We can provide our communities the safety and the security that they deserve only by confronting these dangerous cartels head-on without reservation, he said.
When it comes to tearing into the cartels in Houston, an investigation later code-named Operation Three Stars got quietly under way three years ago, as an undercover DEA agent stood in line at a McDonalds in north Houston. He listened to a drug trafficker using a two-way radio to set up delivery of $750,000; the man was with his wife and kids, ordering Happy Meals while making the deal.