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Drug Enforcement Administration

San Francisco

Daniel Comeaux, Special Agent in Charge

October 28, 2014

Contact: Casey Rettig

Phone Number: (415) 436-7994

Fresno-Based Investigation Results In Nationwide Arrests For Drug Distribution And Cash Structuring Conspiracy

FRESNO, Calif. - An investigation into suspicious cash transactions led to eight individuals from California, Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio being charged with conspiring to distribute marijuana and conspiring to structure cash transactions. All defendants will appear in federal court in Fresno on the charges in the coming weeks.

The following defendants were charged in the indictment brought by a grand jury on October 23, 2014: Brandon Thomas, 24, and Miguel Gonzalez, 31, both of Fresno; Chad Riffle, 22, and Bree Benson, 20, both of Citrus Springs, Florida; Aseel Al-Saber, 25, of Orange County, California; Peter Capodieci, 23, of Crystal River, Florida; Ashley Williams, 27, of Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Jeremy Murphy, 25, of Monroe, Ohio.

According to charging documents, from July 2012 through October 2014, Thomas and Gonzalez sent numerous parcels of marijuana and marijuana oil disguised as clothing to recipients in Florida, including Bree Benson and Chad Riffle. After the marijuana was sold in Florida, the defendants or other individuals deposited the cash proceeds into bank accounts held by the defendants. The cash deposits were all made in amounts of $10,000 or less so that the banks would not file Currency Transaction Reports on those transactions. Shortly after the deposits were made, the defendants would withdraw cash in equivalent amounts from the bank accounts at locations in California. In addition to funneling the proceeds of their drug distribution through bank accounts, the defendants physically transported cash and monetary instruments from Florida to California. In total, the defendants funneled more than $7 million in cash through their bank accounts.

During the execution of search and seizure warrants last week at the residences of Gonzalez, Thomas, Riffle, and Capodieci, federal agents and local law enforcement seized approximately $600,000 in cash and funds held in bank accounts, in addition to a Land Rover, two Bentleys, two Mercedes Benzes, and a 30-foot motorboat, all assets owned or controlled by the defendants. Law enforcement also seized dozens of firearms from the residences of Riffle and Capodieci.

This case is the product of an investigation by the IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’(ICE) Homeland Security (HSI), and the Sheriff’s Offices of Fresno County and Citrus County in Florida. Assistant United States Attorneys Grant Rabenn, Patrick Delahunty and Jeff Spivak are prosecuting the case.

The maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance is 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine; the maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to structure is five years and a $250,000 fine. Any sentences, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being brought as part of Operation Footprint, a nationwide law enforcement initiative led by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Postal Inspection Service. Operation Footprint targets large drug trafficking organizations by identifying the transfer of drug proceeds through financial institutions, bulk cash smuggling and other forms of money transfers. Operation Footprint is focused on bringing criminal charges based on Bank Secrecy Act violations in addition to violations of the Controlled Substances Act and the Money Laundering Control Act. This case is also the product of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task (OCDETF), a focused multi-agency, multijurisdictional task force investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

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