News Release
July 02, 2008
PIO Michael J. Root
Number: 801-524-5031

Major Denver Metro Drug Ring Indicted
Cocaine Sold to Gated Community Users

JUL 02 -- (DENVER) – Jeffrey D. Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, First Judicial District Attorney Scott Storey, and Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink today announced that a grand jury has returned an indictment naming 34 men and women believed to be part of a major drug trafficking ring in the Denver metro area. The massive investigation by the DEA and the West Metro Drug Task Force (WMDTF) began in September, 2007 and ended in April, 2008 when the presentation to the grand jury began.

Agents working the aptly named Operation Shoestring, reflecting shrinking government budgets, disabled a major multi-level drug trafficking ring that is alleged to have been bringing 50 kilograms of cocaine into the Denver metro area each month, with a street value of over $4 million. The drug traffickers also bought and sold large amounts of marijuana.

“This investigation resulted in DEA and our partners dismantling a significant international drug trafficking organization, transporting drugs from Mexico to Arizona and then on to Colorado, and ultimately to the affluent gated communities of Highlands Ranch and Greeley, Colorado," said SAC Sweetin.

During the course of the investigation, agents with the DEA and WMDTF seized almost six kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of $500,000 and 25 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of $10,000. They also seized over $500,000 in cash and six handguns.

According to the indictment, Martin Vega-Beleta was the top level member of the organization. His girlfriend, Norma Yudith Talabera-Espinoza, served as his lieutenant. Erick Fernando Chaparro-Franco is suspected of being the drug runner, working closely with Vega-Beleta. Investigators believe that Martin Vega-Beleta was the source of cocaine which came from Mexico to the Phoenix area and then to Colorado. Vega-Belata regularly traveled back and forth between Denver and the Phoenix area as part of this drug trafficking ring. He allegedly transported money and arranged for large amounts of cocaine and marijuana to be delivered to the Denver metro area. At the next level of the organization were Sergio Flores-Hernandez, Jaime Esparaza-Arreola, Sergio Munoz-Maltes and Juan Aguilar-Martinez. They are alleged to have purchased cocaine in kilograms and then distributed it to the people below them. Operating at the next level down, Alejandro Banuelos-Serna and his girlfriend, Mirella DiFranco, Federico Banuelos, and Samuel Martinez are accused of having purchased one or more kilograms of cocaine at a time and then sold it by ounces or grams to other distributors and sometimes to the end user.

“The West Metro Drug Task Force, DEA and our prosecutors did an outstanding job,” said District Attorney Scott Storey. “Their dedication and professionalism made it easy for the grand jury to do their job and help us get these offenders off the street and stop this stream of narcotics into our community.”

The lower level participants in this drug ring are accused of buying and selling cocaine and marijuana from homes in Westminster, Wheat Ridge, Thornton, Arvada, Aurora, Denver, Fort Collins, Highlands Ranch and unincorporated Jefferson County.

The 34 men and women, who were white, black, Asian and Hispanic, were indicted on a total of 141 criminal counts. Thirteen of the participants at various levels of the drug trafficking ring are believed to have been in the US illegally.

Thirteen members of the organization, those operating at the highest levels of the organization, were charged with racketeering, Violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, a class two felony, in addition to other charges. Members of the organization were charged according to their participation. The charges include Possession, Distribution and/or Sale of a Controlled Substance, each is a class three felony, Money Laundering, a class three felony, and Possession of a Forged Instrument, a class six felony, Investigators from the DEA and WMDTF have arrested 30 of the 34 and warrants have been issued for the arrest of the remaining four.