Butte Drug Trafficking Organization with Ties to the Sinaloa Cartel Dismantled
BUTTE, Mont. — A multi-agency investigation into a drug trafficking organization with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, which brought massive quantities of methamphetamine, counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl and heroin to Butte for redistribution, has resulted in the federal convictions of 22 people.
U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich hosted a press conference Thursday to discuss the results of the criminal investigation, which was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation with assistance from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The investigation began in 2019 and was one of the largest federal drug trafficking probes in Montana in recent years. The network is responsible for bringing more than 2,043 pounds of meth and 722,000 fentanyl-laced pills from Mexico to Butte for redistribution, with $2.98 million laundered in drug proceeds. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized 65 pounds of methamphetamine, more than 2,000 counterfeit oxycontin pills containing fentanyl and three pounds of heroin and seized $32,875 in cash and 19 firearms.
According to court documents, this case began with a tip about a suspicious package, which eventually led to the 22 federal convictions of individuals from Montana, California and Mexico. At least three of the defendants have direct ties to the Sinaloa Cartel.
“The Sinaloa Cartel is one of two primary cartels responsible for flooding the United States with fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Rocky Mountain Division Brian Besser. “This investigation has revealed the extent to which the Sinaloa Cartel has extended its reach into Montana; however, the law enforcement agencies, at the local, state and federal level, have demonstrated via the results of this case that we will continue to attack these networks at every level to save lives and protect our communities from the scourge of illicit drugs.”
“Far too often, we believe that cartel-related activity in America is limited to southern border states, but as these cases show, we have significant issues facing us in Montana, including in an area where I grew up,” U.S. Attorney Laslovich said. “These cases also show that our office will pursue cartel-related activity without fear or hesitation. Individuals associated with this network brought staggering amounts of methamphetamine, fake oxycontin pills laced with fentanyl, and heroin from Mexico and into Montana for distribution. This years-long investigation and prosecution shut down the flow of these dangerous drugs, held suppliers and local dealers accountable, and saved lives in Montana communities. The success of this collaborative enforcement action would not have been possible without the dedication, cooperation, and hard work of all of our law enforcement partners to hold offenders accountable and to keep Montanans safe. Our work does not end with the conclusion of these cases, but rather is just beginning.”
“The shipment of illegal and dangerous narcotics remains a plague on our streets. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service remains steadfast in our commitment to work with our partners in law enforcement to do everything we can to bring these drug dealers to justice and protect communities across Montana and the country,” said Assistant Inspector in Charge (AIC) Jarrod Resendez, of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
“There’s no question that Mexico is the source of illegal drugs pouring into our state. These cases – which are the culmination of years of investigative and prosecutorial work – put that to rest,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said. “Our DCI narcotics agents and Highway Patrol troopers work closely with federal and local partners every day, and I’ll continue our work to strengthen those partnerships to keep drugs out of Montana and put traffickers behind bars.”
“I am very grateful for the multi-jurisdictional approach and the cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement. These are lengthy, labor-intensive and detailed operations,” Butte Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester said. “This investigation was very successful in that a significant number of defendants were indicted. It puts drug traffickers on notice that Southwest Montana is a very dangerous place to do business.”
The operation smuggled drugs from Mexico to stash houses in Southern California, then transported multi-pound quantities by vehicle and through the mail to Butte. From Butte, local dealers trafficked the drugs to Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, Billings and Wolf Point for street-level distribution. The dealers then laundered drug proceeds through the mail, cash shipments and wire transactions back to the Mexico suppliers.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation led the investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Montana Highway Patrol, the Southwest Montana Drug Task Force, Butte Silver Bow Law Enforcement and Butte Silver Bow County Attorney’s Office.
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF)
investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.