Vaqueros” Hits Mexican DTO
APR 27 -- TUCSON, Ariz. – Federal, state, and local officials today announced arrests and charges against a Mexican drug trafficking organization believed responsible for moving at least 40,000 pounds of marijuana through southern Arizona, primarily through Cochise County. The organization employed advanced counter-surveillance, ramp trucks to overcome vehicle barriers at the border, and hidden vehicle compartments.
Seven federal wiretaps approved in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, dubbed “Operation Vaqueros” for the “Cowboy” attire worn by members of the drug trafficking organization, were unsealed by order of the U.S. District Court. Twelve people have been indicted on federal conspiracy charges. In the course of the investigation, 26 people were indicted on federal charges, and 13 on state charges.
U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth Kempshall, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Matthew Allen, and Attorney General Terry Goddard, were joined by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske at the federal courthouse in Tucson to announce the results of the coordinated investigation alongside numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.
“Today’s actions are yet another strike against the powerful drug trafficking organizations whose tentacles stretch across the Mexico border and into the U.S.”, said DEA Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth W. Kempshall “In Arizona and all across our nation’s Southwest Border, DEA and our partners are determined to find them, shut down their operations, and bring them to justice.”
The 36-month investigation “Operation Vaqueros” has yielded 39 state and federal indictments, and 34 arrests, including one employee of the Cochise County Attorney’s Office, arrested on January 26, 2010 on state charges she provided confidential information to one of the drug traffickers in exchange for money. That information was derived from a Title III wiretap, one of seven wires approved for “Vaqueros” as federal agents began honing in on the organization. Six of those indicted federally remain at large and are believed to be in Mexico.
“As this drug task force operation attests, we will bring greater security to the southwest border by working together – better and smarter, with more proactive intelligence-led investigations that pool resources of federal, state and tribal agencies,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke. “We will work with our friends at the County Attorney’s Offices, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to prosecute state and federal border crimes. They have a different set of tools than we do, but a common goal.”
“ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to target the leadership of the smuggling organizations that are responsible for smuggling related violence in our border communities,” said Matt Allen, Special Agent in Charge of ICE Investigations in Arizona.
“The cartel's efforts to infiltrate law enforcement are not limited to Mexico. They want to do it here as well, and we can't let them," stated Arizona Attorney General Goddard. “We must and will remain diligent in finding and prosecuting anyone who supports, funds, or aids the cartels."
“Operation Vaqueros” began in 2007 with information gathered by the U.S. Border Patrol on the method of operation of the DTO, eventually evolving into an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation involving DEA, ICE, FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, as well as local police from Bisbee, Sierra Vista, and Douglas.
“In today’s difficult economic environment, close collaboration among Federal, state, and local law enforcement is more important than ever,” said White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske. “The arrests made here in Arizona show the value of information sharing and coordination. By working together to reduce drug production, trafficking and use across the Nation, we are making our communities safer and our families stronger.”
A conviction for Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, a $4 million fine or both. In determining an actual sentence, Chief Judge John Roll will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.
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 following individuals were named as co-conspirators in the federal indictment and are charged with Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.
Acuna Urcadez, 41 *
*Federal fugitives. Please contact DEA Sierra Vista at 520-458-3691 or 866-DHS-2ICE with information on the whereabouts of these individuals.
Remaining 27 defendants were load drivers for the organization, and were prosecuted for drug trafficking charges in Federal and State courts (14 Federal prosecutions/13 State charges).
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