One of the Largest Marijuana Seizures in Indiana History Announced
After Six-Month Investigation
OCT 25 -- INDIANAPOLIS – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Metropolitan Drug Task Force (Metro Drug), and other state and local agencies recently arrested several members of a suspected drug trafficking organization operating in the Indianapolis area. The seizure of over 10,000 pounds of marijuana is the largest drug seizure in Marion County history and possibly the largest marijuana drug seizure in the state of Indiana. The $4.3 million in suspected drug proceeds seized was believed to be destined for transportation to Mexico.
Law enforcement collaborated with the United States Attorney’s Office and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office in this six-month investigation. The bulk value of the marijuana seized is roughly $5 million, with the street value being worth many times more.
“This investigation landed a combination punch that destroyed this organization,” stated Jack Riley, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the DEA, which includes the state of Indiana. “The vigorous work by the investigators thwarted over five tons of marijuana from hitting the streets, while the second punch denied the foreign suppliers the proceeds from previous drug sales.”
“The DEA and Metro Drug made history last week,” United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Joseph H. Hogsett said. “Not only will taking these drugs off of the streets have a profound direct effect on this community, I am also proud to announce that the millions in cash taken from the Mexican drug lords will help fund public safety efforts in Indianapolis and throughout central Indiana for years to come.”
“I am pleased to sound like a broken record – this is at least the fourth major operation this year arising from unprecedented federal-state cooperation in attacking drugs and guns in Marion County,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry. “These successful operations will continue to take down those who traffic in drugs and guns in our community.”
On March 6, 2011, members of a DEA task force and Metro Drug began an investigation into marijuana trafficking in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. Based on information received by the agencies, it was believed that illegal activities were being coordinated out of a Mexican grocery store on the west side of Indianapolis.
A subsequent search of a tractor trailer observed leaving the store resulted in the discovery and seizure of $2.6 million in drug assets that was concealed in a false compartment in the roof of the trailer’s interior. This money was never claimed, and was distributed earlier this month to law enforcement agencies throughout central Indiana to be utilized for law enforcement purposes. At the time, law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office was unable to provide details of the seizure due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
On October 11, 2011, with information obtained through the March tractor trailer seizure and a separate traffic stop in Arkansas that resulted in an additional half million dollar drug proceeds seizure, law enforcement agents in Indianapolis were able to identify Jairo Ramirez, 26, and began surveillance on his activities. Ramirez was observed repeatedly meeting with both Efren Perez, 20, and Julio Cesar Castaneda, 36, who were similarly put under surveillance. It was then observed by officers that Perez and Castaneda were frequently visiting a west side warehouse.
On the morning October 17, 2011, after a week of around-the-clock surveillance by DEA and Metro Drug agents, Castaneda and Perez were again observed visiting the west side warehouse. After they exited the building, a K9 unit was called in and gave an alert for the presence of marijuana after a search of the warehouse’s loading dock. A search warrant was issued, and that evening DEA agents and Metro Drug detectives entered the warehouse through the loading dock. After entering the warehouse, the law enforcement officers discovered five large metal storage containers completely filled with plastic-wrapped packages of what was identified as marijuana.
The agents left the premises undetected and continued surveillance on the warehouse. Late that evening they observed a van leave the warehouse with its lights off. After a traffic stop, Tomas Toledo, 29, was identified as the driver. A subsequent search of the vehicle by officers and a K9 unit resulted in the discovery of 600 lbs. of marijuana, and Toledo was arrested.
Fifteen minutes later, officers and agents from DEA, Metro Drug, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (“IMPD”) located Castaneda and Perez at a nearby hotel, and they were also taken into custody. Roughly one hour later, members of DEA, Metro Drug, and IMPD executed a search warrant at the home of Ramirez, who was similarly taken into custody. A search of the house resulted in the recovery of $425,000 in cash and materials referring to the west side warehouse.
At approximately 4 a.m. on October 18, 2011, law enforcement officers executed a second search warrant on the west side warehouse. Inside, they recovered more than 9,000 lbs. of marijuana as well as packaging materials. A subsequent search of another residence tied to Ramirez led to the recovery of an additional $725,000 in cash.
All told, this joint law enforcement investigation led to the seizure of 10,505 lbs of marijuana, and over $4.3 million in money believed to be drug proceeds. Ramirez, Perez, Castaneda and Toledo are all facing charges stemming from a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distributing 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana. Castaneda and Toledo were also identified as being illegally inside the country.
The public is reminded that a criminal complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.