A Twin Cities man involved in an episode of kidnapping and torture at a St. Paul house controlled by a Mexican drug cartel has pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine.
Antonio Navarro, 19, told U.S. District Judge John Tunheim that he participated in the April incident under threat from three enforcers who flew in from Los Angeles. The three had been dispatched by the Sinaloa Cartel in an effort to recover more than 30 pounds of the drug stolen from the St. Paul stash house.
On Tuesday, Navarro told the judge that the three threatened to kill him and harm his family if he did not help track down people suspected of stealing the drugs, valued at $300,000.
Authorities say the enforcers were members of the transnational MS-13 organization rooted in El Salvador, used by the Sinaloa Cartel as muscle to protect its drug and human-trafficking operations throughout Mexico and the United States.
Navarro, originally from Arizona, faces 10 to 17 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy. Federal prosecutors have agreed to look at less time than what federal sentencing guidelines call for because of his cooperation. A sentencing date has not been set.
“I was upstairs in my room, locked up and tied up,” Navarro told Tunheim after being asked to explain his role in the incident, which occurred after the enforcers kidnapped two local teenagers in south Minneapolis. “I really didn’t know what was happening; there was screaming,” he said. Navarro added that even though he was not tortured, “I felt like I was the victim.”
One of the kidnapped boys had his little finger nearly amputated as the enforcers pressured his older companion to tell them who might have stolen the drugs.
A task force of FBI agents, state officers and local police located the stash house, at 914 Palace Av., St. Paul, hours after the boys were released and notified authorities through their families. Officers stormed the house and found drugs, guns and a set of scissors apparently used in the torture.
Navarro and another man, Jonathan Delgado Alvarez, 22, of Los Angeles, were arrested outside the house. Jesus Ramirez, 31, was arrested days later in Los Angeles following a police chase.
The last man, Elenes Villazazo, also known as “Chapo,” is considered a fugitive and likely hiding in Mexico, according to law enforcement authorities.
Alvarez and Ramirez are expected to go on trial in October.