The Pharr Police Department arrested a husband, wife and two of their children last week who investigators say operated an illegal gambling operation tied to a car dealership that sold vehicles for cash payments without the proper state license.
Authorities have charged 65-year-old Manuel Ramiro Saldivar, 60-year-old Noemi Briseno, 39-year-old Marcos Rene Saldivar and 37-year-old Serina Briseno with engaging in organized criminal activity, money laundering, gambling promotion, keeping a gambling place and possession of gambling device/equipment/paraphernalia.
Manuel, his wife Noemi, and their daughter Serina, were all released on $21,000 in bonds on Aug. 12, the same day they were arrested. Marcos, the son, was released that same day on $36,000 in bonds. He is additionally charged with false name information/forgery vehicle registration and temporary tag for distribution to unautharized person.
The investigation into the family began on Sept. 8, 2018, after Pharr police executed a search warrant at the Tequila and Mezcal Events Center at 908 W. Ferguson where several people were cited for illegal gambling, investigators say in probable cause affidavits.
After the search, investigators say they seized gambling paraphernalia, currency, an ATM machine, a 1996 Chevy Tahoe and 2010 Chevy Aveo, both with paper plates and both owned by a M2 Motors and Marcos Saldivar.
Authorities also arrested Brenda Arely Rostro and Eleuterio Lopez on the same charges the family now faces.
The investigators also opened a money laundering and organized criminal activity investigation and began looking into a company called MRSJ Investments LLC that was located at 4020 N. Texas Blvd. in Weslaco, which is a family owned business whose principal is Manuel, according to probable cause affidavits.
The detectives learned that M2 Motors was also located at the same address and is affiliated with MRSJ and is owned and managed by Manuel, his wife, Noemi, and their chidren, Marcos and Serina, authorities say in the charging documents.
It turns out that MRSJ also owned the Tequila and Mezcal Events Center in Pharr, which investigators say was an illegal gambling establishment.
Police learned that Rostro and Lopez both obtained their vehicles — the Chevy Tahoe and Aveo — from MRSJ, “which is one and the same as M2 Motors.”
“Manuel Ramiro Saldivar, Marcos Rene Saldivar, and Carlos Gonzalez committed fraud by participating in the execution of a forged document (bill of sale) for the transfer of a Chevy Aveo and for providing Dealer tags for the Chevy Tahoe and Chevy Aveo which were improperly used and that Rostro and Lopez used these vehicles for transportation to get them to and from the illegal gambling operation and to transport supplies,” the probable cause affidavit stated.
Gonzalez was later arrested and indicted for false name information forgery vehicle registration, which was dismissed at the request of the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office in the interest of justice, court records show.
The investigation revealed that Lopez was paying off the Chevy Tahoe by working at the illegal gambling establishment, according to the probable cause affidavit, which states that police found a schedule/worker deduction sheet that reflected hours worked that were credited toward the vehicle. Detectives also learned that both Lopez and Rostro worked for Manuel and Noemi and had worked at other MRSJ locations.
“There is evidence such as previous police reports with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department that show that Lopez and Rostro have been previously detained by HCSO at different times in the past and in possession of vehicles that are and or were registered and owned by Manuel Ramiro Saldivar and Marcos Rene Saldivar to which Border Patrol was notified that resulted in the detention and or deportation of Rostro and Lopez.”
Both Rostro and Lopez reached deals with the DA’s office and were sentenced to time served, with Rostro doing about two months in county and Lopez doing about five months, court records show.
Rostro and Lopez also admitted to police that they were in the country illegally and had previously been deported, authorities say.
Pharr detectives learned that Rostro “was even housed” in a Weslaco apartment complex owned by Manuel and Noemi, according to the affidavits.
“Rostro admitted that Noemi Briseno gave her the keys to the building (908 W. Ferguson in Pharr Texas) and even made her a lease or contract which was signed by Manuel Ramiro Saldivar,” the probable cause affidavits stated. “This lease had a monthly expected rent of $3,000.000 (sic) dollars to which Rostro never paid and had no means or resources to produce such rent. These documents were part of the scheme.”
As for Lopez, investigators say he went to M2 Motors and met with Gonzalez, a salesman who worked there, and “they agreed and forged a bill of sale for the transfer of a vehicle” and forged the name of another person because Lopez did not have identification and Marcos authorized the sale and applied for Texas Dealer paper plates under his name and dealer license.
“It was established that MRSJ Investments LLC., its owners, managers and employees engaged in organized criminal activity to further the illegal gambling operation,” according to the probable cause affidavits.
Pharr police say Gonzalez was authorized to sell cars and used Mario’s credentials to access the internet for downloading and issuing paper plates to customers.
“Gonzalez admitted that it was Marcos Rene Saldivar that issued the plates for the (Chevy Tahoe and Aveo),” the probable cause affidavit stated.
After executing the search warrant, police say they notified the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner, or OCC.
Authorities say M2 Motors and or MRSJ Investments LLC. located at 4020 N. Texas Blvd. in Weslaco “consisted of a drive-thru, a car lot, a suite that contained several gambling machines and an insurance agency all in the same building divided by suits,” the probable cause affidavit stated.
Pharr police believe the evidence shows that MRSJ was also not using proper contracts or documentation to sell vehicles and were placing liens on vehicles using different addresses on the titles instead of the car lot business address.
“There was evidence of gross negligent recording (sic) keeping,” the probable cause affidavit stated.
Detectives also allege that they were selling vehicles at the illegal gambling establishment located in the Tequila and Mezcal Events Center at 908 W. Ferguson in Pharr, which was not authorized as a location were vehicles could be sold.
“It was later discovered that customers were making payments at the Drive thru store and change was provided from the drive thru store cashier box. MRSJ Investments LLC., Maneul (sic) Ramiro Saldivar was commingling funds directly through the Drive-thru, and M2 Motors,” the probable cause affidavit stated.
Police allege that the Tequila and Mezcal Events Center did not have a certificate of occupancy that reflected an ongoing business or any businesses at the location.
“There were discrepancies associated with how payments were accepted, delivered and where these monies were deposited regarding the sale of vehicles,” the probable cause affidavit stated.
Neither MRSJ or M2 Motors had the required sales financial license to act as a holder or collector on a contract in which a person agrees to accept cash, according to investigators.
“There is evidence to conclude that MRSJ Investments LLC., Manuel Ramiro Saldivar, Noemi Briseno, Marcos Rene Saldivar and Serina Briseno provided a location for the illegal gambling,” the probable cause affidavit stated. “They provided supervision. They monitored the site while the gambling was in operation. They provided employees. They provided vehicles. They provided housing.”