SEP 24 (AMARILLO, Texas) — A total of 14 individuals, residents of the Amarillo, Texas, and Panhandle area, are in custody following an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) operation this morning led by special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the FBI, on conspiracy and drug trafficking charges outlined in two indictments returned by a federal grand jury earlier this month.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Parker, of the Northern District of Texas, Dan Salter, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Dallas, and Diego Rodriguez, Special Agent in Charge for the FBI Dallas Division, announced the results of the operation at a press conference held this afternoon in Amarillo, Texas. Mr. Parker represented U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña who was not able to attend.
“Targeting drug cartels that have infiltrated the Panhandle area and jeopardized the safety and security of our communities will continue to be a priority in this district,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Parker. “Today I commend the dedicated efforts of the DEA and FBI, who led this OCDETF investigation, along with the ATF, the Potter and Randall County Sheriff’s Offices, the Potter and Randall County Attorney’s Offices, the Potter and Randall County District Attorney’s Offices, the Amarillo Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety.”
“Today, the DEA, along with our federal, state, and local partners, dealt a serious blow to the Gulf Cartel, a Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization, operating in the Texas Panhandle,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Salter. “By combining efforts, this two-year investigation resulted in the federal indictment of 15 defendants determined to transport, distribute, and sell methamphetamine and cocaine throughout Amarillo and the surrounding communities. The DEA is committed to partner with federal, state, and local law enforcement to keep our citizens safe not only here in the Texas Panhandle but throughout the country. The DEA will continue to focus efforts to dismantle drug cartels determined to profit on the backs of addictions.”
“The cooperation and coordination amongst local, state and federal law enforcement resulted in the shared success of identifying the many participants of this criminal organization,” said Special Agent in Charge Rodriguez. “Today’s arrests reaffirm our commitment to the missions that we have each been charged to uphold.”
The following 11 defendants, who are charged in one indictment with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, were arrested this morning, and have made their initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clinton E. Averitte.
Five of these defendants are also charged with substantive felony drug offenses and one defendant, Vongphrachanh, is also charged with a firearms offense.
The two below-listed defendants, also charged in that indictment, are presently in state custody:
In the second indictment, two individuals, Juan Gabriel Mejia, a/k/a “J,” 37, and Richard Anthony Rios, a/k/a “Tex,” 36, are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Rios, who was arrested earlier this month on a related criminal complaint, and remains in federal custody, is also charged in the indictment with three substantive methamphetamine offenses. His trial is set for October 22, 2013. Mejia remains a fugitive, believed to be in Mexico.
“Our local, state and federal law enforcement partners work every day to combat drug trafficking within Texas and beyond, and this proactive and successful operation will further enhance the safety of our communities,” said Randy Prince, Regional Commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety. “This multi-agency law enforcement effort has resulted in the arrest of multiple suspects, and it was a top priority for each agency involved to dismantle and render this drug trafficking organization ineffective in its constant pursuit to distribute narcotics throughout our communities. Working together as a team enables us to maximize our efforts and resources, and thanks to the dedication and coordination of the DPS Criminal Investigations Division agents and all participating law enforcement partners, this unified operation has removed these suspects from our communities.”
The investigation involved undercover purchases, wiretaps, and search warrants. In total, throughout the investigation, approximately $500,000 in cash, 2.25 kilograms of cocaine, 1.75 pounds of methamphetamine, and six firearms were seized.
A federal indictment is an accusation by a grand jury and a defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty. If convicted however, the statutory penalties for the conspiracy and substantive drug counts range from 40 years to life in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines. The maximum statutory sentence for the firearms offense charge is life in federal prison.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey R. Haag.