The Dallas Drug Enforcement Agency made its largest methamphetamine bust in Denton County in October, the agency said Wednesday.
The drug bust on Oct. 8 in Denton County led the Dallas DEA to about 1,930 pounds of methamphetamine worth about $45 million. Although the bust happened in October, the agency hadn’t released information until now because agents are still trying to conduct more arrests and get suspects indicted. The agency declined to specify where in Denton County the bust happened.
Eduardo Chavez, the special agent in charge of the Dallas division, said Wednesday they stopped an 18-wheeler in Denton County off Interstate 35. Agents pulled about 663 hidden packages that contained more than 1,930 pounds of meth stuffed into them. While agents stopped the semi-trailer in Denton County, Chavez said they don’t know if a city in the county was its destination.
“The greater DFW area, to include Denton, has been identified as one of those major [meth trafficking] hubs,” Chavez said. “The natural geographic location with Interstates 35, 20, 30, 45 makes it a very natural fit for a lot of these drug trafficking organizations to be able to use it as a destination to fulfill whatever local market needs are, but then be able to repackage and ship to other points.”
He said drug traffickers will look to mask their illicit activity in bigger cities with big businesses to hide among normal, law-abiding citizens. Chavez compared it to legal corporations establishing hubs in large cities like Dallas.
Based on what the DEA believes is the current market price for meth, Chavez said they seized about $45 million in drugs from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, or “El Mencho.”
“That’s a big dent regardless of total volume [drug cartels] may try to do,” Chavez said. “The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación is one of the most powerful and ruthless drug traffickers running in Mexico right now. [El Mencho] is one of our most wanted. … While he may be potentially hundreds of miles away in Mexico, this seizure hurts his bottom line, so we’re happy to be able to do that, and this is one step further toward identifying networks leading back to him [to hold] him and his conspirators accountable.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chavez said traffickers had to change transportation methods since there initially were fewer cars on the highway.
“Once we saw the pandemic hit one of its first peaks with a lot of stay-at-home orders … it became harder to get products from point A to point B because no one was on the highway,” he said. “They felt they would stick out a lot more trying to run passenger cars from the border to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago. So they relied on taking larger risks and compiling shipments, hoping the one truck would get through unnoticed versus 10 passenger cars with smaller amounts.”
Drug prices also rose due to the pandemic.
“Previous to COVID, around March of 2020, the average illicit price for a kilogram of meth was about $4,000 … about 2.2 pounds,” Chavez said. “Toward May and June, we saw meth rise to almost $14,000 to $15,000 a kilo. Meth has plateaued now to about $9,000, $10,000 and $11,000 per kilo.”
People were arrested in this bust, but Chavez said agents are keeping more information sealed as they’re still in the midst of investigating.
“We anticipate several more [arrests] in the near future,” he said. “People will be held accountable, the people who will go to jail behind this, because at the end of the day, people’s lives are at stake. Not only people who are addicted to this drug and the propensity to overdose, but because the inherent nature of drug trafficking is violent. … We’re excited to close some of the loops on these organizations.”
A Lake Dallas man accused of killing his brother told police the two of them had been having ongoing problems, according to an arrest affidavit obtained Wednesday.
The Lake Dallas Police Department on Jan. 3 arrested James Odin Matei, 44, on a charge of murder after responding to a shooting call with the Hickory Creek Police Department. Police located Matei in the breezeway outside an apartment unit at Lakeshore Apartments, 300 E. Swisher Road.
According to the affidavit, police ordered Matei to the ground and detained him. They allegedly found a pistol holster and cellphone on him.
Upon entering the apartment where the two brothers lived, police found 47-year-old Eugene Gheorge Mateiu in the back bedroom, lying on his side and not breathing. Lake Cities Fire Department paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
Mateiu died from a gunshot wound to the face around 6:35 a.m. Jan. 3, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. His death was ruled a homicide.
Matei told officers, after being read his Miranda rights, that he shot his brother after being assaulted, according to the affidavit. He alleged the two had been in an ongoing altercation, including in a series of text messages.
The affidavit says he informed officers he had a firearm safe in the residence but didn’t want to give police the combination because there were “embarrassing items” inside. The affidavit doesn’t say what those items were or indicate whether officers checked the safe.
Lt. Mark Stone, with the Criminal Investigations Division for Lake Dallas police, said Jan. 4 that Matei has changed his names a couple of times, including dropping the letter U in Mateiu. Stone said that last name is listed on the man’s identification.
Matei is still in the Denton County Jail after being booked on Jan. 3. He’s charged with murder and is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail.
G. Roland Vela, the first Hispanic resident elected to Denton City Council and a longtime microbiology professor at the University of North Texas, died Tuesday. He was 93.
Friends swapped emails and text messages Wednesday, wishing the influential Denton resident que en paz descanse — rest in peace.
Vela was remembered as a scholar, a friend and a public servant who broke barriers.
“You know, when I first met Dr. Vela back in the mid-’70s, he impressed me as person who values community service, who values those relationships and community building,” said Rudy Rodriguez, a fellow member of the local League of United Latin American Citizens, which Vela also belonged to. “He served on board and commissions. He was notable, in my opinion, for the work he did during his term of office as an elected member of the City Council in 1979.”
Vela was born on Sept. 18, 1927, in Eagle Pass to Marcial Vela Bermea and María de Guadalupe Múzquiz de la Garza Vela. He grew up with one brother, Cesar, in San Antonio.
Don Smith was a close friend of Vela’s since their days on Brooks Air Force Base in 1963, where Vela worked as a civilian scientist and Smith was a lieutenant. Then Smith joined Vela in the UNT biology department, where Vela retired after 35 years and Smith served for 44.
Smith said Vela was self-assured even as a kid growing up in a working-class part of San Antonio.
“Roland was a paper boy, and he told me about this time when he rode his bicycle to this huge house. This was the home of the richest man in San Antonio, and Roland said he hadn’t paid him,” Smith said. “So this 12-year-old kid goes to the biggest house in San Antonio and a butler answers. He said he needs to talk to the owner, and he ends up telling the richest man in San Antonio, ‘You need to pay me.’ The man said he would be sure to pay him.
“He didn’t just get paid, though. Someone called the press and they took his picture on the way out and he ended up on the front page of the press.”
Vela’s high school education was interrupted when he joined the Texas State Guard at 15, and he transferred into the Navy at 17. He returned to high school in spite of having his GED, and then went to San Antonio Junior College. In an oral history interview archived at the University of Texas, Vela recalled meeting resistance at the junior college.
“[The director of admissions] told me, ‘We have to accept you … because you’re a returning veteran, and it’s the law,’” he recalled in the oral history. “But we don’t have to keep you, so we’re going to put you on scholastic probation. You’re probably going to be out by the end of the semester anyway.”
But Vela was a bookworm with an appetite for science, and ended his first year of college with high marks. He was off scholastic probation and on the honor roll within one year of higher education. He transferred to the University of Texas in 1948 and enrolled in bacteriology so he and a friend could share books and lower expenses. Vela performed well, majoring in chemistry. By 1951, he had a master’s degree in science.
Before getting a doctorate in microbiology and biochemistry, Vela met and married his wife, Emma Lamar Codina Longoria, who graduated from nursing school as he pursued his doctorate. They married in 1953 and had four children, Gerard Roland, Anna Maria, Yolanda Marta and Jaime Joel.
Vela came to Denton to teach undergraduate microbiology courses for UNT. During his 35 years at UNT, Vela was named to the American Academy of Microbiology. In 1985, UNT named him associate dean of science and technology in the College of Arts and Sciences. He wrote two biographies — one about the famous general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and another about a Spanish hero in the American Revolution, Bernardo de Galvez.
As his family grew in Denton, Rodriguez said Vela served quietly and steadily in leadership with the Flow Health Care Foundation, Ann’s Haven Hospice VNA, Denton County Cooperative Agency, Our Daily Bread and the Denton airport advisory board.
Vela also worked to recruit Hispanic students to attend college in Denton, Rodriguez recalled.
“His interest was in elevating the number of Hispanic students choosing UNT for their academic studies,” Rodriguez said.
Vela was a generous donor to the local LULAC scholarship fund, and he mentored 20 doctoral students during his tenure at UNT.
On City Council, Smith said Vela was interested in Denton “getting more serious about Texas Municipal Power Agency,” and having more influence on the way the city delivered power and getting fair pricing for it. But Vela decided his work as a scholar was more important than public office, Smith said.
“He discovered how much time it took to be on council, and he cared more about his scholarship than his work for the city, so he served just one three-year term,” said Smith, who was his campaign manager.
In 2019, Denton Parks & Recreation honored Vela by naming the soccer complex at the north end of North Lakes Park in his honor. Vela, his wife and family members were at the dedication ceremony for the park in 2019.
The G. Roland Vela Athletic Complex was 15 years in the making, and Rodriguez said the city is working on a statue of its namesake.
Smith said his wife and Vela’s wife were close friends, and that their children grew up together.
“Roland was a dear friend every step of the way,” Smith said. “Roland was part of a group of chemists who met every Wednesday to talk science. He got to where he couldn’t drive. I would pick him up and take him. We’ve been shut down for nearly a year now, though.”
Smith said his friend left his mark on Denton.
“In Texas, we’ve looked down our noses at Hispanics,” Smith said. “He didn’t hold with that. We had a wonderful friendship. He was a very intelligent man and a fantastic bacteriologist. He made Denton better, and he made UNT better.”
Denton City Manager Todd Hileman is expected to leave his current job and assume the same position in Palm Desert, California, on March 1, according to published reports.
He will succeed interim City Manager Randal Bynder, who replaced Lauri Aylaian after she announced her retirement on Aug. 30, according to a Desert Sun newspaper article published Tuesday.
Palm Desert, a city of about 53,100 people, is in Southern California, about 120 miles northeast of San Diego. Denton’s population is roughly 141,000.
“Palm Desert is kind of in the central part of the Coachella Valley,” said Tim Kiley, assistant news manager for KESQ-TV, which reported on Tuesday night that Hileman is the finalist from 70 candidates considered for the position. “It’s not the richest city, but it’s in good shape. It’s mostly golf courses and gated communities.”
Hileman came to Denton in January 2017 after 13 years in Glenview, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a population of about 45,000. He has worked in city management for about 27 years. His contract with Denton is scheduled to expire on Jan. 29, 2022.
“I think it’s a massive loss,” Denton City Council member Paul Meltzer said. “His financial management through tough times has been exemplary. It’s a blow.”
Hileman’s base annual salary when he was hired was $250,000. In addition to health benefits, he received vacation and sick time allotments and a $600 car allowance. Today, his annual salary is $267,800.
He initially was hired on a five-year contract, which was extended by a year in 2019 to run through January 2023.
“Palm Desert’s outstanding quality of life, combined with the excellent conversations that I had with City Council members, convinced me that this was a terrific opportunity,” Hileman told the Desert Sun.
Hileman did not return messages from the Denton Record-Chronicle seeking comment. Ryan Adams, spokesman for the city of Denton, said in an email that Hileman is not available until Friday while he informs Denton City Council members.
“City Manager Hileman intends to make a formal, public comment on this matter on Friday, January 29,” Adams said in the email. “No other information will be released by Mr. Hileman or the City of Denton prior to that time.”
The Palm Desert City Council is expected to hire Hileman on Thursday, KESQ reported. Palm Desert Mayor Kathleen Kelly had not returned a message seeking comment by Wednesday evening.
Denton City Council member Deb Armintor thanked Hileman for his service.
“I didn’t even know he was looking for another job,” she said. “I wish him well, and I agree that it is time for him to move on. I think he did a lot of good for Denton when he first came here. But it got to a point where I believed it was time for the city to say, ‘Thank you. Next.’”
Mayor Gerard Hudspeth declined to comment except through email. Adams said a decision has not been made on the search method for Hileman’s replacement.
“That will be a council decision,” he said.
Palm Desert, the Desert Sun reported, has a budget this fiscal year of about $59 million. Denton’s budget is $1.3 billion.