Jury convicts Houston officer in “Up Da Bayou Boyz” case in federal court

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A jury at the federal courthouse in New Orleans convicted a former Houston police officer Friday morning of conspiracy charges in connection with a drug distribution operation that unleashed a torrent of crime and violence on the streets of a Houma neighborhood, in connection with a notorious Mexican drug cartel.

Noe Juarez, 47, who had been named a Houston “Cop of the Year,” faces a sentence of ten years to life when he next appears before U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance in April.

The jury found Juarez guilty of conspiracy to distribute five kilos or more of cocaine hydrochloride and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, said Kenneth Polite, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Juarez, a veteran cop, was involved in a conspiracy spearheaded by Efrain and Sergio Grimaldo, who were, according to court papers, associated with the Los Zetas drug cartel.

The conspiracy, Polite said, involved distribution of thousands of kilogras of cocaine throughout the U.S., including Houma and New Orleans.

“Juarez played a pivotal role by providing law sensitive law enforcement information, including running license plates and sharing police tactics and activities with conspirators,” a statement from Polite’s office says. “Juarez further supplied vehicles, body armor, and semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles to the conspirators, some of which ended up among senior cartel leaders in Mexico.”

In addition to federal prison time, Juarez faces fines of $260,000.

In 2014 Efrain Grimaldo, a member of Los Zetas cartel, was sentenced to 33 years in prison for cocaine distribution in connection with the same case. His brother, Sergio Grimaldo, who was extradited from Mexico that same year, still has federal charges pending. A Los Zetas associate, Sabino Duarte, testified against Efrain Grimaldo and is expected to testify against his brother.

The street level end of the ring in Houma, called Up Da Bayou Boyz or UBB, were rounded up prior to the cartel arrests by officers of the Houma Police Department and the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, working in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, ending an era that had turned Morgan Street in Houma and surrounding blocks into an open-air illegal drug bazaar.

Local prosecutors and deputies as well as federal agents squeezed UBB members one-by-one for information on the source of their product. Court records and other information show that gang members rolled over on higher-level distributors, at least one of whom supplied direct information leading to warrants for the arrests of the Grimaldos, who were already on federal agents’ radar. The conspiracy and involvement of local drug dealers dated back at least to the year 2000.

Court papers showed that local drug distributors Edward Lester Talley and Mark Griffin of Houma traveled frequently between Houston and Houma from 2006 through 2008,

moving anywhere from 5 to 13 kilos of cocaine per trip – with a total street value of more than $250,000.

As federal authorities probed Griffin and Talley, agencies in Terrebonne monitored the escalating drug dealing activity, placing pressure on UBB members and other local street dealers.

The Houston transactions resulted in distribution to Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and New York.

The cocaine was transferred to Talley, court papers state, in the special hiding places crafted in vehicles, including a Ford Taurus and Nissan Titan. Couriers would drive the vehicles containing the cocaine to Houma from Houston.

In 2003, the Mexican government branded Los Zetas, founded in the 1990s by 31 highly trained military deserters sworn to defend the leader of another criminal organization initially, as “the most formidable death squad to have worked for organized crime in Mexican history.”

Military intelligence information made public indicates Los Zetas “thrived on beheadings, castrations, stewing their prey in gasoline-filled vats, and other heinous acts. They make sophisticated use of social media and public hangings to display their savagery and cow adversaries. The reputation for the unspeakable infliction of pain has enabled these desperados to commit atrocities in a score of Mexican states.”

In addition to Griffin, Talley’s Houma associates included Jerome Scott and Corey Douglas, the latter believed a founder of UBB.

One of the first higher level dealers to end up in custody was Scott, who in 2008 lived with his family at addresses on Columbus Street and Smith Lane, all within the UBB area of influence, where community leaders and police were fighting a war against “tagging” – gang graffiti – announcing the existence of the swaggering UBB. Their loose-knit membership and hangers-on wore red as a primary color, the one associated with Houma “west side” gangs.

Police had also already begun a war against street-level drug sales and whomever they could make cases against that were more highly placed.

While the UBB graffiti is gone from city streets, traces of the gang’s existence remain visible in other ways.

At least two videos telling the UBB’s story through rap songs remain on YouTube.

“They’re nothing but thugs, wannabe thugs who don’t want to work and would rather rip off society,” is how Sheriff Larpenter describes the UBB, vowing that his deputies, when necessary in concert with other agencies like the DEA, stand ready to escalate the battle against street-level illegal drugs if need be` and are eager to press the fight. “We are going to continue. There are too many good people in our neighborhoods, and they deserve to be protected.”