Massive takedown targets East County drug trafficking networks
Eighty-five defendants charged for distributing methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl
SAN DIEGO – Eight indictments were unsealed today in San Diego federal court charging 85 members of drug distribution networks linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, with federal drug trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses.
During the coordinated takedown that began early this morning, investigators executed over a dozen search warrants and seized approximately four pounds of methamphetamine and two firearms. As of today at 1 p.m., 47 of the 85 defendants are either in federal or state custody. Authorities are continuing to search for 38 defendants. Many of the defendants are scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.
According to the indictments and other publicly filed court documents, this year-long investigation led by the DEA and the IRS targeted multiple San Diego-based drug distribution and money laundering networks led respectively by Juan Carlos Ochoa, Rene Valdez, Jr., Ramon Castillo, Michael Wright, Alfonso Arroyo, Douglas Bowen, Samuel Becerra and Javier Vergara.
These affiliated networks supplied multi-kilogram quantities of controlled substances (primarily methamphetamine and heroin, but also fentanyl) to dozens of sub-distributors located throughout Southern California. These networks were also responsible for laundering tens of thousands of dollars in narcotics proceeds back to Sinaloa Cartel-associated drug traffickers in Mexico. During this investigation, agents coordinated seizures of narcotics and drug proceeds throughout San Diego County and across the United States.
To avoid detection by law enforcement, the defendants also utilized various encrypted communication services like Signal and WhatsApp to communicate among themselves. Despite their sophisticated efforts, law enforcement penetrated this network with a variety of investigative techniques, including physical surveillance, obtaining phone records, financial documents, tracking warrants on telephones and vehicles and undercover agents. Over the course of the investigation, agents obtained dozens of search warrants and conducted a 10-month-long federal wiretap to track the communications and the location of the defendants. In conjunction with the wiretaps, agents ultimately seized approximately 175 pounds of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl tied to these networks, approximately $50,000 in cash, multiple firearms and a 2020 Cadillac Escalade (valued at over $115,000).
“Today’s operation was about community care-taking,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “We took criminals off the street in South County who were selling drugs and committing violent crimes - robberies, home invasions, identity theft, fraud and other property crimes. The void left is an opportunity for the communities in South County to exhale and breathe in fresh air. Freedom is priceless. Today South County is free to live without a criminal undertone which eroded their daily quality of life.”
“Today we sent a message to drug traffickers in our community. If you sell drugs in San Diego, we will find you and prosecute you to the full extent of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “I want to congratulate the outstanding federal, state and local law enforcement cooperation that has resulted in this highly successful investigation. This case represents yet another critical strike against the Sinaloa Cartel and its U.S.-based networks.”
“A significant portion of the indictments unsealed today are alleged money laundering conspiracy violations and the asset forfeiture allegations,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Johnathan Smith. “Multiple defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering violations, a charge which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20-years imprisonment. These are serious crimes that come with serious time.”
United States Attorney’s Office, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, United States Marshals Service, United States Border Patrol, United States Secret Service, United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Prisons, San Diego Police Department, El Cajon Police Department, Chula Vista Police Department, San Diego County Probation Office, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado
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