A man wanted in a fatal machete attack near North Charleston is a suspected member of a violent Mexican drug cartel who was deported three times before the slaying, federal officials said.
Carlos Urgell-Perez, 21, was still on the loose Friday after sheriff’s deputies accused him and two local men of having a hand in Raphael Baragan-Alverez’s hacking death last weekend on Ward Avenue.
Deputies called the crime “very personal,” but they have not provided further details about a motive. They were still looking into how the 35-year-old victim and the suspects were connected, Maj. Eric Watson of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said.
“It’s still being investigated,” Watson said, “but drugs may be involved.”
Mexican cartels have influenced the illegal drug trade in South Carolina for decades.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted two men on a vast money and heroin-smuggling scheme after they were found with $113,975 in cash during a January traffic stop in the Charleston area. Their attorneys, though, said they were doing business in the country legally and were not, as alleged, members of the Mexican-based Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
In North Charleston, two brothers, Jesus Arizmendi, 24, and Jose Arizmendi, 21, were arrested the day after the recent slaying, but they have professed their innocence. The American citizens who were living together on Midland Park Road face several charges, including murder and kidnapping.
Both of the brothers have past arrests on drug charges.
Jesus Arizmendi, the eldest, has racked up convictions since 2009 for drunken driving, driver’s license fraud and strong-armed robbery. He was convicted of marijuana possession after thumping bass from his car caught the attention of a North Charleston officer, who found a bag of the drug on his front seat.
His younger brother, Jose Arizmendi, has served probation for fleeing from the police. Troopers suspect he was drunk when his car stopped at a driver’s license checkpoint in April 2013. He ran from the vehicle, where he and a passenger had stashed two cans of the alcoholic Four Loko drink, and scaled a razor-wire fence in a bid to escape. He was later captured.
He also was arrested later in 2013 on a cocaine possession charge, but that count was later dropped.
Urgell-Perez is a Mexican citizen with a history of unlawfully entering the United States and winding up in North Charleston, said Vincent Picard, a regional spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In June 2012, Picard said, ICE agents first arrested him in North Charleston for being in the country unlawfully and having suspected ties to Los Zetas, a drug-trafficking syndicate blamed for widespread extortion, bribery, kidnapping and murder in Mexico. The gang traces its roots to soldiers who defected from the Mexican army in the 1990s.
After a short stay in the Charleston County jail, Urgell-Perez was deported to Mexico in August 2012. He would make several failed attempts to return.
On July 10, 2014, he waded through the waters of the Rio Grande, reaching American soil near Laredo, Texas, according to federal court documents. U.S. Border Patrol agents captured him.
During a court hearing later that month in Laredo, he pleaded guilty to entering the country illegally. A federal magistrate sentenced him to 15 days behind bars, and he was deported a second time.
Border agents again encountered Urgell-Perez on Jan. 21 after he floated on a raft across the Rio Grande near Roma, Texas. He again pleaded guilty, was held for another 15 days, then sent back to Mexico.
After that arrest earlier this year, no state or federal records indicate that Urgell-Perez ever encountered American law officers again.
Early on Sept. 5, though, authorities said he and the Arizmendi brothers forced their way into Baragan-Alverez’s home. A woman there, Silvia Garcia Martinez, 28, told investigators that the men threatened her and her 2-year-old daughter.
Martinez fled through the back door and ran to a neighbor’s home, where she pleaded in a 911 call for officers to come. She had escaped, she said, but her daughter and Baragan-Alverez, whom she called her husband, were still in danger.
“I need for (the police) to come to my home now because those men are going to kill (my husband and daughter),” she said. “This is life and death. ... There’s three men who want to kill (them) with a knife and machete.”
Deputies, though, said Baragan-Alverez suffered slash wounds to his head, torso and arms around the same time Martinez got out of the house. Deputies found his body just outside the front door.
When they implicated the Arizmendi brothers in arrest documents, sheriff’s detectives said Martinez and Jose Arizmendi knew each other from a previous incident in which they both were jailed. They had been two of six people arrested in June 2013 after a North Charleston officer pulled over the pickup they were in because the driver, 28-year-old Jose M. Ochoa, wasn’t buckled up. The officer reported that he found nearly $900 on the occupants and 3 grams of cocaine wrapped in a dollar bill on the truck’s floor. All of them were arrested on drug charges.
Aside from mentioning that 2-year-old incident, the affidavits in last weekend’s homicide did not provide further details about the ties between the suspects, the slain victim and the surviving woman.
As they probe that link, sheriff’s investigators have continued to look for Urgell-Perez. Watson, the sheriff’s major, said they had gathered some intelligence indicating that Urgell-Perez was holed up in North Charleston-area apartment complexes. The leads haven’t panned out, he said.
He urged anyone who knows of the suspect’s whereabouts to dial 911.
“Considering the nature of the crime,” Watson said, “I would say he poses a threat to anyone who comes in contact with him.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.