Sixty Defendants Charged in Nationwide Takedown of Sinaloa Cartel Methamphetamine Network
SAN DIEGO – An indictment was unsealed today in federal court charging 60 members of a San Diego-based international methamphetamine distribution network tied to the Sinaloa Cartel with drug trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses.
During the last month, hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents and officers have arrested dozens of defendants and searched multiple locations throughout San Diego County and in five states. As of today, 44 of the 60 defendants are either in federal or state custody, and the search continues for 16 defendants. In addition to these arrests, law enforcement has seized more than 220 pounds of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs; 90 firearms; and more than $250,000 in cash. Law enforcement officials are also seeking to forfeit of residences, high-end vehicles, and bulk cash belonging to these defendants.
According to the indictment and other publicly filed documents, over the last several years, this complex San Diego-based network obtained thousands of kilograms of methamphetamine from the Sinaloa Cartel to smuggle across the international border concealed in hidden compartments in passenger cars and motorcycles. The defendants then used these cars and motorcycles, along with trains, commercial airlines, the U.S. Mail, and commercial delivery services like FedEx and UPS to distribute that methamphetamine to dozens of sub-distributors located throughout San Diego County; the United States, including Hawaii, Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Kentucky; and other countries, including Australia and New Zealand.
In return, tens of thousands of dollars in narcotics proceeds were returned to the network’s leaders via shipments of bulk cash, structured cash deposits into bank accounts, and money transfer systems like MoneyGram, Western Union, PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App. And to protect their illegal operations, the defendants allegedly possessed dozens of firearms and used encrypted communication providers to communicate with each other. This drug trafficking and money laundering continued unabated throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Despite their sophisticated efforts, law enforcement successfully penetrated this network with a variety of investigative techniques, including physical surveillance, obtaining phone records and financial documents, undercover agents, search warrants, as well as a six-month federal wiretap to intercept the communications and track the locations of the defendants.
“DEA is enhancing its efforts to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the most violent drug trafficking organizations across the country under Operation Crystal Shield,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery. “By dismantling this sophisticated drug trafficking network, DEA and our law enforcement partners have prevented significant quantities of methamphetamine and numerous firearms from making their way to the streets of San Diego and other neighborhoods throughout the United States. Drug trafficking is a violent crime, that impacts the safety and security of our communities – and the drug and firearm seizures made in this investigation are testament to that.”
“Today we have dealt a serious blow to this San Diego-based international drug trafficking network with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The intersection of drug dealing and gun possession inevitably leads to violence in our communities. By dismantling this network, the Department of Justice reaffirms its unwavering commitment to reducing violent crime and building a San Diego where all our citizens are safe.”
“The primary motivation of drug traffickers is greed,” said Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent in Charge for IRS-Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “IRS-CI will continue to work tirelessly alongside our partner agencies to stop the flow of narcotics and narcotics proceeds that are killing innocent Americans, and to ensure that crime doesn’t pay—that those individuals, like the 60 defendants indicted and arrested in this case, are brought to justice.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to preserving the integrity of the mail by ridding the mail of involvement in drug trafficking,” said US Postal Inspection Service Acting Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the Los Angeles Division. “This operation clearly shows that by combining our strengths and resources with all the involved agencies which include, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies we can disrupt their drug trafficking organizations to protect our communities.”
This case was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Narcotics Task Force (NTF), the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, and the United States Postal Inspection Service. The NTF is a DEA-led task force comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Agents and officers from the United States Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, also provided vital assistance with the investigation.
United States Attorney’s Office; Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation ; United States Postal Inspection Service; San Diego County Sheriff’s Department; San Diego Police Department; Escondido Police Department; United States Border Patrol; San Diego County Probation Office; United States Marshals Service; Homeland Security Investigations; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; Federal Bureau of Prisons; San Diego County District Attorney’s Office; Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations, Electronic Surveillance Unit; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan