DENVER - Late last week, federal agents led by the DEA, working closely with local and state law enforcement arrested 15 people from southern Colorado who had been named in four separate indictments by a federal grand jury in Denver for drug trafficking offenses.
The arrests took place without incident. Most of the arrested defendants made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Denver on April 15, where they were advised of the charges pending against them, and the penalties associated with those charges. Prior to last week's raid, eight defendants were arrested earlier based on two federal indictments and were already in custody. Three additional indicted defendants are fugitives. In addition, the state arrested and are prosecuting 10 people, bringing the total number of people involved in this southern Colorado drug organization to 36.
During the course of the 14-month investigation, agents and officers seized over 38 pounds of methamphetamine, most of which was more than 99 percent pure. They also seized 13 kilograms (28.6 pounds) of cocaine, four ounces of heroin, $506,500 in U.S. currency, and other assets. During last week's operation, agents and officers found and seized an additional10 to 12 pounds of methamphetamine, along with five guns, roughly $33,000 in cash, and a number of vehicles. The total amount of assets seized during the investigation so far is more than $610,000.
One defendant, Lucio Vazquez, is named in four separate indictments.
While agents and officers were conducting the drug trafficking operation, law enforcement in Colorado became aware that three aliens involved in the drug-trafficking organization were allegedly transporting and harboring illegal aliens. DEA agents informed ICE HSI, which then conducted a related investigation. The results of the ICE HSI investigation were referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, which filed charges for conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens.
"Thanks to the hard work of these dedicated agents and officers, a major drug distribution organization transporting drugs to be sold in Pueblo and Colorado Springs has been dismantled. This result demonstrates the outstanding results law enforcement can achieve by working together," said U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
"This investigation highlights the cooperation of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies working together to bring to justice those criminal organizations in the Colorado Springs area," said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Merrill. "The public expects law enforcement to work together, which is exactly what we will continue to do. Those criminal organizations who continue to operate in our state should be concerned."
"This investigation demonstrates how narcotics traffickers routinely expand their illegal enterprises to multiple areas," said David Marwell, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Denver. "Our DEA law enforcement partners recognized the alien-smuggling component to their already-existing narcotics investigation and contacted our local ICE HSI office to pursue this added criminal angle. Thanks to the DEA's commitment to teamwork, the citizens in the Colorado Springs and Pueblo communities received the direct benefits of local, state, and federal law enforcement working together to dismantle this complex criminal organization."
"This is the type of cooperation and collaboration that the public has come to expect from our law enforcement agencies," said Luis Velez, interim Pueblo police chief. "When we are able to leverage the resources of each individual agency, the outcomes are usually outstanding. That is exactly what happened in this case. Officers from a variety of local, state and federal agencies were able to come together to put a stop to yet another drug trafficking organization."
"I'm honored to have been able to dedicate a deputy to the DEA task force," said Pueblo Sheriff Kirk Taylor. "His participation in helping remove large quantities of drugs off our streets is an excellent example of cooperation between local and federal law enforcement."
"The Colorado Springs Police Department values its collaboration with our partners, including the District Attorney's office, the DEA and our multi-agency task forces," said Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers. "When we work seamlessly, united by our mission, great things are accomplished. The resolution of this major case is a sterling example of the power of collaboration."
If convicted, all but two of the defendants face not less than 10 and not more than life in federal prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. The other two face not more than five years, and up to 40 years, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute less than 500 grams of methamphetamine.
This case was investigated by the following agencies: the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Marshals Service, HIDTA, Colorado Springs Police Department, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Pueblo Police Department, Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, Colorado State Patrol, Monument Police Department, Elbert County Sheriff's Office, Aurora Police Department, DEA Colorado Springs, DEA Las Vegas, and DEA Los Angeles.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys with the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) - Assistant U.S. Attorneys Susan "Zeke" Knox and Barbara Skalla.
The charges contained in the indictments are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Following is the list of defendants by name, age, and city of residence:
- Edgar Navarro, 36, Baldwin Park, Calif.
- Manuel MARTINEZ-DIAZ, 39, Marino Valley, Calif.
- Alberto QUIROZ-CHAVEZ, 31, San Jose, Calif.
- Eduardo JIMENEZ-CORTEZ, 43, Las Vegas, Nev.
- Oscar MONTANO, 33, Denver, Colo.
- Pedro CARRERA-CHAVEZ, 36, Commerce City, Colo.
- Humberto TORRES, 37, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Lucio VAZQUEZ, 33, Calhan, Colo.
- Juan Luis VIRJEN, 30, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Eric VENABIDES-ALCANTOR, 29, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Cristoval RAMIREZ-CERVANTES, 27, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Wilbert CORTINA-DZUL, 28, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Samuel RETANO-GRADILLA, 40, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Jamie UPCHURCH, 34, Elbert, Colo.
- Julio GARCIA-ALVARADO, 37, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Pedro GUILLEN-ORTIZ, 24, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Vincent DUVALL, 53, Pueblo, Colo.
- Edgar CASTRO-MOTTA, 30, Reseda, Calif.
- Nancy CASTRO-MOTTA, 32, Reseda, Calif.
- Edgar LINARES-CEVALLOS, 53, South Gate, Calif.
- Luis AGUAYO-CASTRO, 42, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Trevor YEAGER, 35, Colorado Springs, Colo.