Operation Dark Angel: 22 in Colorado
May 31 (Denver, CO) – Last week a federal grand jury in Denver returned two separate indictments charging a total of 22 defendants with crimes related to the trafficking of methamphetamine and international money laundering, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s (OCDETF) Strike Force announced.
Of the 22 indicted, 20 people were arrested yesterday without incident in Metro Denver, California, Utah and Iowa. The two others not arrested are considered fugitives from justice. The first indictment involves 11 defendants and 135 counts. The second indictment involves 11 additional defendants and 22 counts. Most of those arrested yesterday appeared in U.S. District Court in Denver yesterday afternoon for their initial appearance, where they were advised of the charges pending against them.
During the course of the investigation, including fruits from search warrants executed yesterday, agents and officers have seized a total of over six pounds of methamphetamine, $715,340 in currency and property and one firearm. Included in the total are two vehicles, two 2004 Freightliner tractor trailer, and a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro.
“The indictments we are announcing today reflect the hard work of Denver OCDETF Strike Force, who targeted a Mexican drug trafficking organization responsible for the transportation of significant quantities of methamphetamine from California to Colorado,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Barbra Roach. “In addition to the drug trafficking aspects of this investigation, it is important to note the success investigators had in detecting and charging the money laundering scheme in which the organization was able to use in order to transfer drug proceeds to Mexican Cartel members in Mexico.”
The arrests are a culmination of an 18 month long OCDETF investigation, known as Dark Angel, which targeted the Armando Mendoza-Haro Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO), which has ties to Mexico. The DTO utilized corrupt drivers from a trucking company, using their semi-tractor trailers to move methamphetamine from California to Colorado. The tractor trailers were also used to move money back from Colorado to California. In one instance, the money was hidden in a truck load of milk. The DTO also used other means to send money back to California, including one instance were a minor had cash strapped to his body as he was being driven to California.
One unique aspect of this investigation was the money laundering the defendants allegedly engaged in. The defendants attempted to conceal and disguise the origin of the methamphetamine proceeds. They did this by depositing the methamphetamine proceeds into various bank accounts at financial institutions (called funnel accounts). In an attempt to avoid bank reporting requirements, the defendants would structure the deposits into the accounts by making deposits of less than $10,000. Financial institutions are required to file a currency transaction report for any currency transaction in excess of $10,000.
To further conceal the ownership and source of the methamphetamine proceeds in the funnel accounts, the defendants would move the funds that were deposited into the funnel accounts to other accounts by means of wire transfers. These wire transfers included transferring funds domestically and internationally. In some instances there were subsequent wire transfers back to the original funnel accounts with cash withdrawals made in California, avoiding the $10,000 reporting requirements.
Commissioned in July 2011, the mission of the Denver OCDETF Strike Force is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute the command and control structure of major international and interstate drug transportation and smuggling organizations operating in and through the Mountain West region of the United States through collaborative criminal and financial investigations. The Denver Strike Force is one of only eleven across the country. The Strike Forces are mostly housed in large cities.
The Denver OCDETF Strike Force is comprised of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Aurora Police Department, the Colorado State Patrol, the Denver Police Department, the Fort Collins Police Services, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Lakewood Police Department.
Those arrested yesterday include:
“Thanks to the outstanding efforts of the OCDETF Strike Force, twenty-two drug dealers have been charged with trafficking methamphetamine, most of which was delivered to Metro Denver,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “This week’s arrests will have an impact on the availability of methamphetamine on the streets of Denver.”
“IRS – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) is committed to fighting the war on drugs in conjunction with our law enforcement partners,” said Sean Sowards, Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation, Denver Field Office. “IRS-CI has the financial investigators and expertise to disrupt these organizations and deprive them of their illicit gains.”
If convicted, the defendants face penalties ranging from not less than 10 years and up to life in federal prison, to not less than 5 years and up to 20 years, depending on the quantity of drugs they are accused of trafficking. Some face not more than 20 years in federal prison for money laundering and/or other drug trafficking charges. Others face not more than 4 years for using a communication facility (i.e. a phone) while committing the felony drug offense.
The indictments also include asset forfeiture allegations. If convicted, the defendants shall forfeit their right, title and interest in all property constituting and derived from any proceeds obtained directly and indirectly as a result of their crime.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Phillips and Kasandra Carleton. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Andrews assisted with the Asset Forfeiture aspect of this case.
The charges contained in the indictments are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.