The man in Mexico known as El Gato wanted Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa dead.
He hired Jesus Gerardo Ledezma-Cepeda, a Monterrey private investigator, to find the cartel lawyer, and ordered Ledezma-Cepeda and others to refer to Guerrero only by a derogatory nickname.
The information emerged Tuesday in a Fort Worth federal courtroom during opening statements and witness testimony in the trial of Ledezma-Cepeda and his cousin, who are accused of stalking Guerrero like “big-game hunting guides,” a U.S. prosecutor said.
Guerrero, reportedly the personal lawyer for the one-time head of the Gulf cartel, was fatally shot at Southlake Town Square in 2013.
Ledezma-Cepeda and Jose Luis Cepeda-Cortes are charged with interstate stalking and conspiracy to commit murder for hire.
Ledezma-Cepeda’s son, Jesus Gerardo Ledezma-Campano, was also indicted in the case and pleaded guilty to interstate stalking. Prosecutors have said he will testify during the trial, which could last about four weeks.
The actual gunman and getaway driver in Guerrero’s death, referred to in court Tuesday as Clorox and Captain, have not been arrested or identified.
Security for the high-profile case has been heavy this week, with a number of Homeland Security agents evident in the vicinity of the federal courthouse downtown.
‘El Gato’ vendetta
On Tuesday, an FBI agent testified that Ledezma-Cepeda told authorities he was hired to find Guerrero by Rodolfo Villareal Hernandez, a “plaza boss” in the Beltran Lleyva cartel near Monterrey.
Villarreal, known as El Gato, or The Cat, believed that Guerrero was responsible for the murder of his father, Ledezma-Cepeda told agents, according to Tuesday’s testimony.
Ledezma-Cepeda described El Gato to authorities as a “smart, astute individual,” but someone who was “easily upset and quick to pull the trigger,” according to the agent, who translated Ledezma-Cepeda’s interviews after his arrest in September 2014.
Ledezma-Cepeda told authorities he watched from a parked car across Town Square as Guerrero was shot six times, according to the FBI agent. Soon afterward, he received a message from El Gato.
“It’s happened,” El Gato told him. “It’s done.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Burgess said Ledezma-Cepeda and his two co-defendants led El Gato to his prize.
“Just like hunting,” Burgess told jurors, who were later shown photos of Guerrero’s body.
The accused conspirators, Burgess said, first traveled to South Florida, where they knew Guerrero’s brother lived.
After locating Guerrero’s sister-in-law in Grapevine, the men moved to North Texas, placing a tracking device on the sister-in-law’s car. They found Guerrero’s home when the sister-in-law drove there March 30, 2013, Burgess said.
Ledezma-Cepeda told authorities that the men then purchased surveillance cameras to place outside Guerrero’s home and spray-painted them to camouflage them in the affluent neighborhood.
“No expense was spared,” Burgess said.
But Ledezma-Cepeda’s attorney, Wes Ball, told jurors that the defendant was forced to track Guerrero after El Gato summoned him to a bloodstained tire shop in Monterrey.
Authorities were able to place Ledezma-Cepeda near the scene of the shooting later because El Gato had put trackers on their vehicles to ensure they were working to find Guerrero.
“This is not a job offer with a right to refusal,” Ball told jurors. “Ledezma-Cepeda does what he is told.”
Ball said Ledezma-Cepeda and the other two defendants had no intent to kill Guerrero.
“They had no dog in that fight,” Ball said. “The danger they were in was real. They were doing what they were told.”
Cepeda-Cortes had even less knowledge of any wrongdoing, his attorney said.
Ledezma-Cepeda, attorney Robert Rogers told jurors, recruited Cepeda-Cortes, a U.S. resident, to help him with a private investigation. Cepeda-Cortes, who speaks better English than Ledezma-Cepeda, agreed to help but never knew an assassination attempt would be involved, Rogers said.
“If this was a conspiracy,” Rogers said, Cepeda-Cortes “would have known about the killing.”