October 20, 2005
Contact: Special Agent Randy Ladd
Phone Number: (720-895-4294)
Grand Junction Cocaine Ring Indicted
11 People Face Federal Drug Charges
Grand Junction, Colorado- Jeffrey D. Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Rocky Mountain Division, Bill Leone, United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, Jeffrey Copp, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Denver Office, Stan Hilkey, Mesa County Sheriff, and Greg Morrison, Grand Junction Chief of Police, announced that a federal grand jury in Denver, Colorado, today returned a 38 count indictment charging 11 people from the Grand Junction area with trafficking cocaine. Of the 11 indicted, five defendants were already in custody of ICE on immigration charges, and 5 were arrested today without incident. The other defendant is considered a fugitive from justice. The indictment is the result of a year long investigation by the DEA Western Colorado Drug Task Force into a cocaine drug trafficking organization operating in Grand Junction.
The drug trafficking organization, led by Salvador Vera-Figueroa, transported large quantities of cocaine from Mexico, across the Arizona border, to drug traffickers in Grand Junction, Colorado. The cocaine was distributed locally in the Grand Junction area and to several other states. To date, the DEA Western Colorado Drug Task Force has seized approximately 2.5 kilograms of cocaine and $50,000.00 in U.S. Currency.
“The Southwest border is the primary gateway for illegal drugs into the U.S. This investigation clearly illustrates a ‘cocaine highway’ running from Mexico, through Arizona, to the western slope of Colorado,” said Jeffrey Sweetin, DEA Special Agent in Charge. “Today’s arrests will impact the traffic on that highway and significantly diminish the availability of cocaine in Grand Junction.”
Charged in the indictment and in custody are: Jesus Vera-Figueroa, Jose Manuel Vera-Topete, Jaime Vera-Topete, Salvador Dominguez-Parada, Jose Cordova-Vasquez, Hermes Arzapalo, Joshua Rodriguez, Gwendolyn Baldwin, Carlos Arzapalo and Alberto Vivian-Tellechea.
Charged in the indictment, and considered a fugitive from justice is Salvador Vera-Figueroa.
“This major case is representative of the collaborative efforts conducted from local law enforcement and federal agencies in taking down a dangerous drug trafficking organization located here in Mesa County. The threat to public safety and welfare in our community has been significantly minimized by the apprehension of these habitual criminals.” said Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey. “Community welfare is always restored whenever drugs of any type, whether its marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine, are taken out of the hands of drug trafficking organizations. We will continue to pursue these dangerous offenders and bring these criminals to justice, whose only purpose is to destroy our children, families, and communities for their own personal gain.”
All defendants face a variety of drug distribution charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and distribute more than 500 harms of cocaine, which carries a penalty of not less than 5 years, and not more than 40 years in federal prison, and or a $2,000,000 fine.
“The HIDTA task force combines not only the experience and talent of individuals from multiple law enforcement agencies,” said Jeffrey Copp, special agent-in-charge of the ICE Denver Office. “But the combination of law enforcement authorities also significantly enhances its success. ICE provides its unique and effective immigration and law enforcement authority to attack illegal drug organizations from various aspects.” Copp heads the ICE Office of Investigations, which includes the states of: Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Denver tomorrow. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark Barrett.
The DEA Western Colorado Drug Task Force is comprised of DEA, ICE, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the Grand Junction Police Department.
The charges are only allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty. For more information please contact Mesa County Sheriff’s Office Information and Communications Manger Susan McBurney at (970) 244-3929, DEA Special Agent Karen Flowers at (303) 705-7351 or U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Officer Jeffrey Dorschner at (303) 454-0243.