Border Officers, Chicago and L.A. Cell Leaders Among 18 Charged in OPERATION
OCT 19 -- CHICAGO – Eighteen defendants, including the alleged leaders of Los Angeles and Chicago cells of a Mexican-based narcotics trafficking organization and two U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Chicago who allegedly provided confidential law enforcement information, were being arrested on a federal complaint filed in Chicago as part of a nationwide investigation, federal and local authorities announced today. Nine of the 18 defendants were arrested last night and this morning in Chicago, while four others were arrested in California and Colorado as part of Operation Money Clip, a Drug Enforcement Administration-led investigation of international cocaine, heroin and marijuana trafficking and money laundering.
Five defendants are fugitives believed to be in Mexico or elsewhere, and additional arrest warrants were being sought today. The Chicago prong of the investigation has resulted in seizures of nearly 140 kilograms of cocaine, a kilogram of heroin, nearly three tons of marijuana and more than $350,000. Two residences of Chicago defendants were searched last night and today, resulting in the seizure of several hundred pounds of marijuana, more than $200,000 and four guns, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Richard W. Sanders, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the charges together with Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Elissa A. Brown, Special Agent-in-Charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Department of Homeland Security; James Gibbons, Resident Agent-in-Charge of the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility; Thomas Frost, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General; Chicago Police Supt. Philip Cline; and Larry Trent of the Illinois State Police. They commended the police departments in the following suburbs that assisted in the investigation: Naperville, Worth, Elgin, Olympia Fields, Palos Heights, Calumet City and Hoffman Estates, as well as the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation began in October 2003. Each of the 18 Chicago defendants was charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, heroin and marijuana since November 2003 in a federal complaint that was filed yesterday and unsealed today following the arrests.
The defendants arrested in Chicago were scheduled to appear beginning at 2:30 p.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys in U.S. District Court. The two U.S. Border Protection and Customs officers, Jaime Garcia 27, of 4601 S. Laflin, Chicago, and Alma O. Teran, 28, of 3814 S. Honore, Chicago, on numerous occasions in 2003 and/or 2004 allegedly used their positions at O’Hare and Midway airports and other locations to access confidential information from law enforcement databases to determine whether certain individuals, including Garcia himself, or residences were linked to any ongoing investigations and provided that information to certain co-defendants.
“It is important that federal law enforcement make every effort to dismantle international drug-trafficking organizations and disrupt the supply chain,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “That task becomes ever more difficult when there are corrupt individuals in sensitive positions who join forces with drug traffickers. Today, as a result of federal and state investigators working together, the corrupt border officers face life imprisonment and the organization is out of business in Chicago.” Mr. Sanders of the DEA said: “This investigation began with a traffic stop in rural Texas that resulted in a cash seizure that eventually wound all the way up the supply chain to the individuals in California representing Mexican traffickers. As a result, we’ve successfully plugged a significant pipeline of drugs to Chicago and halted the flow of cash back to the suppliers. It shows that multiple law enforcement agencies, working together, can achieve successful results.”
According to an 84-page DEA affidavit supporting the charges, agents intercepted numerous telephone conversations among various defendants over the last year. They identified Salvador Mendoza, 32, of Bloomington, Calif., as the head of the Los Angeles cell of the organization who obtained large quantities of cocaine and marijuana from various sources. Mendoza then arranged to distribute multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics on consignment to others, including the alleged leaders of two Chicago cells of the organization, Jose Urena, 28, of 4525 S. Francisco, Chicago, and Lino Iniguez, 37, of 6910 and 6914 S. Kedvale, Chicago, who, in turn, re-distributed the narcotics they obtained from Mendoza and others, and returned cash proceeds from the drug sales to the suppliers. Two other defendants, Jose Ponce Cisneros, 36, of 4444 S. Homan, Chicago, and Jose De Jesus Del Toro Macias, 40, who is believed to be in Mexico, allegedly were also leaders and organizers of the conspiracy who supplied narcotics. Defendant Juan Carlos Rosas, 33, of 2219 S Highland, Berwyn; allegedly was a wholesale customer of the organization.
The following defendants were identified as workers who performed various roles in the conspiracy: Mario Alberto Fernandez Lecada, 49, of Guadalajara, Mexico, who allegedly kept accounts of the narcotics transactions; Thomas Blank, 65, of Aspen, Colo., and Glen Fuller, 50, of Snowmass, Colo., both of whom allegedly provided transportation for cocaine from Los Angeles to Chicago; Rolando Aguilar, 41, of 71 S. Pinyon Ct., Buffalo Grove; Juan Villa, 31, of 5532 S. Kedvale, Chicago; Ignacio Duran, Jr., 20, of 4525 S. Francisco, Chicago; Indalecio Mendoza-Contreras, 36, of Riverside, Calif.; Ruben Mendoza, 29, of Rialto, Calif.; and Armando Estrella, 29, and his wife, Jennie Valencia, 26, both of 3653 W. 66th St., Chicago.
The following seizures of cash and narcotics are among the various events described in the affidavit:
The complaint also alleges that on approximately 40 occasions in 2003 and 2004, Garcia, acting in his official capacity, gained access to the Treasury Enforcement Computer System (TECS), a confidential government database to search for information about himself, his address, Urena and Cisneros to determine if they were linked to any ongoing investigation. TECS allows the user to access other databases, including the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and Teran, acting in her official capacity, on approximately a dozen occasions in 2004 allegedly gained access to NCIC to conduct searches for similar confidential information. Garcia and Teran were not criminal investigators and there was no valid law enforcement reason for them to conduct such searches. Intercepted phone calls between Urena and Garcia revealed that they had numerous conversations to discuss the information obtained by Garcia and Teran.
If convicted, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole and a maximum fine of $4 million. The Court, however, will determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed.
The government is being represented by Assistant United States Attorneys Ricardo Meza and Gabriel Fuentes.
The public is reminded that a complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.