Enforcement Administration Announces "Operation Choque"
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – Today, Jeffrey D. Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Field Division, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); John W. Suthers, United States Attorney for the District of Colorado; Lou Velez, Chief for the Colorado Springs Police Department; and Jim Billings, Chief for the Pueblo Police Department will announce the results of “Operation Choque.” Also represented at the announcement will be the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Fountain Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Teller County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Internal Revenue Service, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the Weld County Drug Task Force consisting of Greeley Police Department, Weld County Sheriff’s Office, and Evans Police Department . “Operation Choque” was an international drug investigation, which has lead to the seizure of approximately $11 million in U. S. currency and other assets, 2,300 kilograms (over 5,000 pounds) of cocaine, and 60 arrests nationwide since 2002.
Those arrested were charged federally with cocaine importation and distribution, conspiracy, and money laundering. Twenty-nine (29) of these defendants were indicted in the District of Colorado and of these twenty-five (25) have been arrested. Other arrests have occurred in Mexico; Chicago, IL; New York City, NY; and El Paso, TX. This organization imported up to 600 kilograms of cocaine per week into the United States and transported millions of dollars per week in drug proceeds from the United States back to Mexico. “The fact that a major international cocaine and distribution network was operating in rural Peyton, Colorado, help to underscore how serious and pervasive this nation’s drug problem really is,” United States Attorney John Suthers said.
The alleged leaders of the organization have been identified as Miguel Angel Arriola-Marquez, Saul Saucedo, and Oscar Arriola-Marquez. These three (3) individuals have been charged with various federal cocaine importation and money laundering violations. Miguel Angel Arriola-Marquez and Saul Saucedo have been arrested in Mexico on Provisional Warrants and are awaiting extradition to the United States. Oscar Arriola-Marquez remains a federal fugitive believed to be in Mexico. Approximately 2,300 kilograms (approximately 5,000 pounds) of cocaine and $11 million in drug proceeds have been seized to date in this investigation. The investigation revealed that one courier alone transported $43 million to Mexico during a 12-month time period.
" This investigation initiated by our Colorado Springs Resident Office has expanded regionally, nationally, and internationally to disrupt and dismantle a wide ranging and sophisticated cocaine source supplying North America,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey D. Sweetin. “The citizens of Colorado can be proud of the integrated law enforcement effort and the professionalism displayed across regional and national borders to bring this case to a successful conclusion.”
BACKGROUND OF THE INVESTIGATION:
In March 2002, the Colorado Springs Resident Office of DEA’s Denver Field Division initiated an investigation into a group utilizing a ranch property in Peyton, Colorado, as a base of operations to transport large shipments of cocaine and drug proceeds. The investigation was coordinated nationally and ultimately identified a far reaching and sophisticated organization headed by the Arriola brothers and Saul Saucedo with cells in several U.S. cities.
One of the cells of this organization was based in the Colorado Springs area and utilized a 500-acre rural ranch located in Peyton, Colorado, to offload and store multi-hundred kilogram quantities of cocaine smuggled from Mexico to Colorado in tractor trailers. The cocaine was then transferred to other drivers who would transport the drugs to Chicago, New York City, and other U.S. cities.
Once the cocaine was sold in various U.S. cities, the drug money was collected and often transported to the same ranch in Peyton. The investigation revealed that up to $2,500,000 at a time would be collected and transported by the organization’s couriers. From the ranch, the money would be delivered to the kingpins in Mexico. The organization also controlled a residence in El Paso, Texas, where the drug proceeds were frequently delivered. Once the drug proceeds reached the El Paso residence, the money would be loaded into pickup trucks with hidden compartments and then driven from the U.S. to the Arriola brothers or Saul Saucedo in Mexico.
The investigation revealed that Saul Saucedo and the Arriola brothers directed the cocaine distribution and money collection activities of their subordinates in several U.S. cities. DEA agents in New York City, Chicago, El Paso, and Mexico coordinated their efforts with the investigative action being taken in Colorado Springs. As a result, key organization members were arrested throughout the U.S. and seizures of cocaine and drug proceeds were made in several cities.
While the ranch in Peyton was a major transshipment point for the organization and much of the organization’s cocaine was shipped to points east of Colorado, distributors also operated along the Front Range of Colorado. Cocaine distribution cells were identified in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver, and Greeley, leading to drug seizures and arrests of organization members in those cities.
A number of significant drug and asset seizures have occurred as a result of this investigation. All of the seizures were a direct result of this investigation by the DEA Colorado Springs Resident Office or from information they provided to other DEA offices.
The defendants are charged with various drug trafficking crimes. Depending on the charge and the amount of drugs the defendants are alleged to have trafficked, they face prison terms of anywhere from 5 years to life and fines ranging from $250,000 to $4,000,000.
The charges are only allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty. For more information please contact DEA Special Agent Daniel Reuter at (303) 705-7384 or U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Officer Jeffrey Dorschner at (303) 454-0243.