DEA agents in Iowa take more than $2 million in drugs off streets
21 defendants face a combined 218 years in federal prison
DES MOINES, Iowa – Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration Des Moines Resident Office partnered with the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, United States Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations to take down 21 high-ranking members of the Jesse Sanchez Drug Trafficking Organization based out of Southern California and sourced by the Sinaloa Cartel. Agents seized more than 200 pounds of methamphetamine, 50,000 fentanyl pills and 10 kilograms of heroin estimated at more than $2 million. In addition, approximately $425,000 in drug proceeds and assets were seized during a two year period.
“This complex, multi-jurisdictional investigation involved hundreds of man hours and had organizational ties to multiple federal and state investigations,” said DEA Omaha Division Special Agent in Charge Richard Salter Jr. “This case is yet another outstanding example of DEA’s networking capabilities with local, state and federal law enforcement partners throughout the U.S.”
Operation Despacito began in April 2017, as investigators tracked the Iowa-based distribution cell known for methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and cocaine trafficking. In a case that crossed state and international borders, investigators identified a network that utilized subterranean tunnels, passenger vehicles and the U.S. postal service to smuggle and transport thousands of pounds of illegal drugs into and throughout the United States. Traffickers routed illegal drugs to Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and North Carolina.
Information obtained from cooperating sources and co-conspirators contributed to the Office of Foreign Assets Control process for sanctions on three Mexico-based, Sinaloa Cartel Kingpins in accordance with the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The Kingpin Act denies significant foreign narcotics traffickers, their related businesses and their operatives, access to the U.S. financial system, and all trade and transactions involving U.S. companies and individuals.
U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum of the Southern District of Iowa indicated that on January 14, the last defendants of the conspiracy were indicted. The 21 defendants received combined sentences totaling 218 years in federal prison. Of the 21 defendants, nine multi-pound methamphetamine suppliers are residents of Iowa, while nine California residents supplied the drugs to Iowa. Three co-conspirators are from Nevada.
“Make no mistake, Iowa is a target for drug cartels who are pumping hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine into our communities,” said Krickbaum. “We will find these drug traffickers and put them in federal prison. The United States Attorney’s Office is grateful to our partners in law enforcement for their tireless work to protect Iowans from these criminal organizations.”
In addition to the drugs, agents seized three assault rifles, multiple stolen handguns and a stolen U.S. Marine Corps firearm suppressor within Des Moines city limits.
The Des Moines Resident Office is part of DEA’s Omaha Division encompassing Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota as well as parts of Illinois and Wisconsin.