CHICAGO — Twenty defendants face federal narcotics charges following a joint investigation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The following agencies also assisted with the investigation: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division and the Chicago Police Department.
Five of those charged are alleged members of a Chicago-based cell of the Zetas Mexican drug cartel responsible for transporting millions of dollars in drug proceeds between Chicago and Mexico.
Federal agents executed simultaneous arrests Nov. 15 in the Chicago area and in Laredo, Texas. The defendants stem from the multi-jurisdiction investigation of drug trafficking and the flow of its narcotics proceeds. Twelve of the 20 defendants indicted in Chicago were arrested in Chicago; a 13th arrest was made in Laredo.
The investigation resulted in accumulated seizures during 2010 of more than $12.4 million in cash and about 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of cocaine in the Chicago area. An additional $480,000 cash and two kilograms of heroin were seized Nov. 14.
The 20 defendants were charged in five separate indictments returned by a federal grand jury on Nov. 2 and unsealed following the arrests. The 12 defendants arrested Nov. 15 appeared in U.S. District Court and remain in federal custody pending detention hearings. Five remain fugitives; one was already in federal custody, and another is hospitalized.
Tuesday's seizures of cash and heroin occurred during the arrests and execution of search warrants at residences in Bellwood and Bolingbrook, Ill., as well as a safe deposit box.
All 20 defendants were charged with various narcotics offenses, including conspiracy to possess and distribute quantities of cocaine, and using a telephone to facilitate narcotics trafficking. The five alleged members of the money transportation cell were also charged with conspiracy to transfer narcotics proceeds outside the United States.
If convicted, 12 defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. The remaining eight face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years to a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine. The money transportation conspiracy carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of twice the value of the money involved.
"One indictment in this group signals the first federal prosecution in Chicago of defendants allegedly tied to the Zetas drug-trafficking cartel, and the seizures of cash represented a significant blow to the operation of this alleged money transportation cell," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. He praised the dedication and teamwork of the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in Chicago that worked tirelessly to disrupt these alleged drug-trafficking conspiracies.
The prosecutions were coordinated with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas. Federal prosecutors in the Western District of Texas also assisted in the investigation. The Illinois Attorney General's Office conducted a separate but related investigation that resulted in the arrest of eight defendants on state narcotics charges last week in Galesburg, Ill. The federal investigation was conducted under the umbrella of the U.S. Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the Chicago High-Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA).
One indictment alleges that defendant Eduardo Trevino, a fugitive believed to reside in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, directed a money transportation network for the Zetas from Nuevo Laredo. This network allegedly coordinated money transfers from places such as Chicago to Laredo, and then from Laredo to Mexico.
At the direction of the Zetas, defendant Salvador Estrada allegedly collected, processed and concealed cash from drug sales so that the narcotics proceeds could be transported by truck drivers, including defendants Miguel Arredondo and Vicente Casares, from Chicago to Laredo. Estrada did this knowing that the proceeds would be transported to the Zetas in Mexico. Defendant Juan Aguirre allegedly worked with the others to coordinate the delivery of cash proceeds to truck drivers.
Estrada allegedly identified and maintained safe houses where drug proceeds were secretly collected, packaged and concealed, such as 1241 South Wenonah Ave., Berwyn, and 3800 West 24th St., Chicago.
According to the indictment, the following seizures, totaling $12,452,685, were made during the course of the investigation:
- $9,428,950, from the 24th St. stash house on April 30, 2010;
- $2,000,010, also on April 30, 2010;
- $999,310, on May 27, 2010; and
- $24,415, on Dec. 18, 2010, along with a Mossberg 100 ATR .308 rifle and a Colt .22 semi-automatic handgun.
The 14-count indictment against Trevino and the five alleged Chicago cell members seeks forfeiture of about $13 million, including the $12.45 million seized previously. Five of the six (named above) were charged with conspiracy to transport narcotics proceeds outside the United States. Together, with defendant Aureliano Montoya-Pena, all six were charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and various other narcotics offenses.
The other four indictments charge the remaining 14 defendants with various narcotics-distribution offenses.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William Ridgway, Gregory Deis and Heather McShain of the Northern District of Illinois.
The public is reminded that indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
A list of the federal defendants follows (with best-known ages and residences in Chicago unless noted otherwise):
- Eduardo Trevino, age unknown, Mexico, fugitive
- Salvador Estrada, 38, Brookfield/Berwyn, Ill., fugitive
- Miguel Arredondo, 46, arrested
- Juan Aguirre, 42, Melrose Park, Ill., arrested
- Vicente Casares, 49, arrested
- Aureliana Montoya-Pena, 43, fugitive
- Jesus Maria Carreno-Lechuga, 37, Berwyn, Ill., fugitive
- Julio Morales-Soto, 26, Bolingbrook, Ill., arrested
- Antonio Quezada, 24, Northlake, Ill., arrested
- Miguel Angel Hernandez, 21, Melrose Park, Ill., fugitive
- Alejandro Kader, 38, Bellwood/Franklin Park, Ill., arrested
- Carlos Aaron Nevarez-Diaz, 22, Schaumburg, Ill., arrested
- Evaristo Martinez-Zamaniego, 28, Plainfield/Cicero, Ill., arrested
- Manuel Estrada, age unknown, Brookfield, Ill., arrested
- Alvaro Torres-Estrada, 26, Brookfield, Ill., arrested
- Abel Galindo Herrera, 39, Lansing, Ill., arrested
- David Aguirre, 34, Hammond, Ind.
- Adrian Herrera, 33/34, Brookfield, Ill., arrested
- Margarito Lechuga, 45, Berwyn, Ill., arrested
- Noel Cano