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Two plead guilty in connection with U.S. consulate killings

By Patricia Giovine

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) - Two Texas gang associates pleaded guilty on Thursday to roles in a racketeering conspiracy involving, among other things, the high-profile murder of a U.S. consulate worker in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, last year.

Federal prosecutors said Jesus Espino, 43, and Lorenzo Espino, 51, both of El Paso, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges before U.S. Magistrate Judge Norbert Garney.

The charges link the accused to the March 2010 murders of Consulate employee Leslie Enriquez, her husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Alberto Salcido, the husband of another U.S. Consulate employee.

The three were shot to death in separate but simultaneous attacks while driving home from a children's party in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most violent city, which lies just over the Rio Grande from El Paso.

According to court documents, the two defendants are linked to Barrio Azteca, a violent prison and street gang based in West Texas, which has ties to drug traffickers in Ciudad Juarez.

The transnational gang has a military-like command structure and is involved in smuggling, money laundering, extortion and murders, including those of Enriquez, Redelfs and Salcido, according to the documents.

In August, two other Barrio Azteca associates from El Paso

-- Roberto Angel Cardona, 33, and his wife, Desiree Gamboa Cardona, 30 -- also pleaded guilty to a variety of racketeering charges.

Prosecutors said Jesus Espino will receive a 30-year prison term at sentencing. Lorenzo Espino and Roberto Cardona face a maximum penalty of life in prison for racketeering conspiracy.

Desiree Cardona faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to money laundering.

The court has yet to set a sentencing date for the Espinos. Roberto and Desiree Cardona will be sentenced on December 16.

According to U.S. State Department figures, 111 Americans were murdered last year in Mexico, where drug gangs are battling authorities and each other for lucrative trafficking turf.

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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