FRESNO, Calif. - Five Mexican nationals have been indicted by a federal grand jury on drug charges following an investigation by federal and local law enforcement agencies into a methamphetamine distribution ring.
Mario Penaloza, 23, of Orange Cove, Calif.; Javier Lopez-Estrada, aka Jose Esquivel-Torres, 27, of Oakdale, Calif.; Mario Martinez-Botello, 31, of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Jesus Bucio-Mendoza, aka Miguel Mendoza Alvarez, 25, of Fresno; and Armando Toledo, aka Ernesto Gonzalez-Garcia, 25, of San Fernando, Calif., are named in the 12-count indictment charging them with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
The defendants, all of whom are originally from Michoacan, Mexico, are also charged with being illegal aliens in possession of a handgun and ammunition. Penaloza faces additional firearms charges stemming from the discovery of a Ruger handgun with a filed off serial number, and an SKS assault weapon and ammunition seized from his residence in Orange Cove. Additionally, the defendants are charged with avoiding detection by immigration officers. Bucio-Mendoza is charged, individually, with being an illegal alien who was previously deported or removed from the United States.
The charges are the result of an investigation by the Fresno County Sheriff's Office with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
The indictment follows the defendants' arrest in Fowler, Calif., on May 26 in connection with an undercover narcotics investigation that led to the seizure of 7 1/2 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, an assault weapon, two semi-automatic handguns, and 32 rounds of ammunition.
Court documents filed in the case indicate the defendants delivered five pounds of crystal methamphetamine to undercover agents following negotiations. Agents then seized another 2 1/2 pounds of the drug, along with the weapons, from Penaloza's residence during the execution of a follow-up search warrant. Following the seizure, Penaloza indicated the drug had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico. According to the DEA, the Mexican state of Michoacan is currently considered the capital of crystal methamphetamine production in Mexico.
"This case is an excellent example of inter-agency cooperation to combat drug trafficking emanating from the southwest border," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. "The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to working with federal and local law enforcement agencies, and with our partners in Mexican law enforcement, to disrupt and dismantle Mexican drug trafficking organizations."
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims stated: "I am very grateful for the ongoing partnership and support of the U.S. Attorney's Office, DEA, ICE, and ATF. The investigative effort by Fresno County Sheriff's Office detectives will be maximized with the federal prosecution of these criminals. The message to Mexican drug trafficking organizations is that we will put our combined efforts toward investigating and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law."
"Drugs and guns can be a deadly combination and every seizure makes the community a safer place," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams. "These arrests show that we will be relentless in our pursuit in removing drug traffickers from the streets. The DEA will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to bring these individuals to justice."
"These indictments should leave no doubt about our shared commitment to attack and dismantle the criminal rings that are putting dangerous drugs onto the streets of our cities," said San Francisco ICE Special Agent in Charge Mark Wollman. "ICE will continue to use its unique enforcement authorities to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and brought to justice."
"This indictment should send a clear message that the illegal possession or use of a firearm in California will not be tolerated," said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Stephen C. Herkins. "ATF will continue to participate with other law enforcement agencies and utilize our combined resources and expertise to keep the guns out of the hands of violent criminals. Those who choose to violate the federal firearms laws will be held accountable for their actions."
If convicted of the drug violations alone, all defendants, except Bucio-Mendoza, face a minimum prison sentence of 10 years, a maximum term of life, and a fine of $4 million per count. Based on a prior drug trafficking conviction out of San Francisco, Bucio-Mendoza faces an enhanced penalty of 20 years to life in prison and a fine of $8 million.
The defendants are scheduled to appear June 4 before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Fresno for arraignment and plea on the indictment.