Law Enforcement Operation Dismantles Southwest
FEB 28 -- Phoenix – Today, United States Attorney Daniel Knauss and DEA Special Agent-in Charge Timothy J. Landrum announced the culmination of two local Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations named “Operation River Warriors” and Operation “Cut Throat” that resulted in the arrest of seven suspects today on state and federal charges. In the course of the investigation, authorities seized over 28,000 pounds of marijuana, 93 pounds of cocaine, 4 pounds of methamphetamine, and over 2 pounds of heroin destined for American cities.
Arizona’s enforcement operations are part of the nationwide culmination of “Operation Imperial Emperor,” a multi-agency investigation that targeted the Mexico based Victor Emilio Cazares-Gastellum drug trafficking organization, which has been responsible for supplying multi-ton quantities of cocaine, as well as large amounts of methamphetamine and marijuana to distribution cells throughout the United States. Over 400 arrests have been made nationwide, including 66 this morning in Arizona, California, New York and Illinois.
In Yuma County, agencies targeted two of these distribution cells. Investigators identified the cells’ top leaders and stash house locations as well as the transportation routes used by the organizations. Originating in Mexico, the drug shipments passed through the international border and into Yuma County, Arizona. Smugglers would typically traverse through the Imperial Sand Dunes and the Colorado River, employing all-terrain vehicles and sand bag construction to cross the river, and counter-surveillance techniques to thwart law enforcement. Smugglers also used modified vehicle compartments to smuggle multi-kilo loads of marijuana and other drugs through the Port Of Entry. From Yuma County, the drugs were then transported to Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California.
This joint operation also included the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), United States Border Patrol (USBP), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Attorney’s Office, Yuma County Attorney’s Office, Yuma Police Department (YPD), Yuma County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO), La Paz County Sheriff’s Office and a host of state and local law enforcement agencies. The OCDETF initiative was coordinated by DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) based in Washington, D.C.
Today, in Yuma approximately 40 agents and officers executed eight arrest and search warrants at residences in Yuma, San Luis, and Somerton. Seven were arrested, five on federal charges, and two on state charges. Those arrested on federal charges were indicted by a federal grand jury on drug conspiracy and possession charges. Taken into custody today on federal warrants were: Arnulfo Romero-Caro, 26, Ramces Urias-Valenzuela, 27, Aureliano Armando Martinez, 28, Isaac Ramirez-Valenzuela, 28, and Jose Guadalupe Ayala, 23. Arrested today on state warrants were Fabrial Luna and Luis Mayorquin.
In the course of the execution of search/arrest warrants, agents seized five cell phones, six vehicles including two ATVs, various documents, over $8,000 in cash and money orders, and small amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Today’s arrests and seizures were the result of a 14-month enforcement effort that targeted transportation and distribution cells operating primarily in the Yuma area as well as in San Luis Colorado, Sonora, Mexico and Baja California, Mexico. DEA Yuma has documented drug seizures to this organizational conspiracy as far back as 1999.
Federal warrants remain outstanding for Macedonio Guerrero aka “Lolo” , 33, and Francisco Olivarez Arvizu, aka “Flaco.” Both are believed to be key figures in drug smuggling across the Southwestern border and are believed to be hiding in Mexico. Guerrero was arrested in February 2003 in Yuma, Ariz. and pleaded guilty in federal district court in San Diego to possession with intent to distribute marijuana, but did not appear for sentencing. Arvizu was indicted in June 2002 by a grand jury in Phoenix on possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Daniel Knauss, stated “Today's operation shows how the law enforcement community works together to target international criminal organizations that have targeted American communities with a huge supply of drugs across the southwest border. I am grateful to the federal and local law enforcement agencies and officers who have dedicated themselves to breaking down that pipeline.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum stated, “Today, we have taken another step in our fight against drug trafficking. Thanks to the cooperative success of this investigation with our law enforcement partners, we have identified a significant poly-drug smuggling organization and disrupted their ability to operate throughout Arizona and beyond. Arizona citizens are now safer as this organization lies in shambles”
Ron Colburn, Chief of the Border Patrol in Yuma, Arizona stated, “This once again speaks to the outstanding inter-agency collaboration and cooperation occurring here in our Southwest Border States. Both, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, joined forces to make the streets of America safer. We also praise our other federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners in this success story. We can't do it alone, and no longer will. We are in this together.”
ICE Special Agent in Charge Alonzo R. Pena stated “Thanks to the cooperation and professional efforts of our dedicated federal, state and local law enforcement agents in Yuma County and throughout Arizona the people of our communities can be assured that their respective law enforcement agencies are dedicated to keeping a united front on the fight to target sophisticated criminal organizations operating in the state of Arizona. This investigation is an example of the cooperative effort by law enforcement in Arizona.
FBI Special Agent in Charge John Lewis stated “It is always a privilege to assist our federal partners as we enjoy and appreciate their assistance when an FBI investigation benefits from their resources and expertise. This investigation exemplifies the outstanding work conducted by the DEA and other law enforcement in this state in dismantling drug organizations bringing harmful narcotics and violence to communities throughout out nation.”
DPS Director Roger Vanderpool stated, “This is an outstanding example of the type of cases that can be accomplished when we work together. Together, Federal, State, Local, and tribal law enforcement can and will make a difference in our communities. This case is awesome, and was put together by the hard work of some awesome investigators.”
Yuma County Attorney Jon R. Smith said, “The success of this investigation is a perfect example of what can happen when all members of law enforcement, at all levels of government, work together towards a common goal: our communities become safer and those who would otherwise evade being held accountable for their criminal conduct are brought to justice to answer for their alleged misdeeds. In short, this is a real accounting of the obtainment of a shared objective through the collaborative effort of multi-jurisdictional agencies.”
The following defendants face federal drug conspiracy charges in connection with this investigation:
Operation Cut Throat
Urias-Valenzuela, 27 (arrested today)
Operation River Warriors
Armando Martinez, 28 (arrested today)
If convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy, a defendant faces up to life in prison and/or a $4 million fine.
An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution is being handled by Liz Barrick, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.
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