The Justice Department invoked a rarely used, 132-year-old law on Tuesday to charge 12 people with running a violent and sometimes deadly scheme to “monopolize” the resale of American cars and other goods in Central America by fixing prices and retaliating against those who refused to be extorted.
The Justice Department charged the group under the Sherman Act of 1890, an antitrust regulation used to break up American monopolies Standard Oil in the 1920s and AT&T in the 1970s.
One of the men charged, Carlos Favian Martinez, who goes by “Cuate,” is the former son-in-law of the head of the powerful and violent Mexican drug-trafficking organization known as the Gulf Cartel, the indictment said.
Those who challenged the group were met with threats, kidnappings and even death, the indictment said.
Fees extorted as part of the scheme were placed into a collection known as “the Pool” that was later divided up among the defendants, the indictment filed in the Southern District of Texas alleges.
The defendants’ addresses in the indictment range from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to just across the border in Matamoros, Mexico. The indictment said the group met at the Holiday Inn in Harlingen, Texas, in March 2019 to divide $44,000 in cash.
“As alleged, this criminal organization committed heinous acts of violence against those who would not participate in its illegal activities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.
The charging documents said in February 2019 a woman and her boyfriend were abducted in Mexico after the kidnappers told her that her father was working for an agency that threatened the business of “the Pool.”
Another rival agency was hit with gunfire near the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in two deaths.