SAN DIEGO – Eleven defendants have been indicted on drug trafficking and firearms charges for their role in a far-reaching scheme based in the Imperial Valley that used body carriers to smuggle heroin and methamphetamine into the U.S. through the Calexico Port of Entry.
The indictments, handed down earlier this week, are the result of a yearlong probe spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The 11 defendants were taken into custody during enforcement actions Wednesday and Thursday throughout the Imperial Valley. In addition to the arrests, federal investigators also seized seven firearms during the two-day operation, which involved warranted searches at four locations, including sites in Brawley and Calipatria. Many of the search locations were private homes where the drugs and firearms were stored and sold.
Most of the defendants made their initial appearances in federal court Friday. According to the indictments, unsealed Friday, some of the defendants are felons who were in possession of firearms and had ties to criminal street gangs. The maximum penalties for the charges alleged in the indictments range from 10 years to life in prison.
HSI special agents say this week’s arrests are indicative of a growing trend along California’s southern border involving drug traffickers’ increasing reliance on body carriers. Earlier this month, a 24-year-old Tijuana man identified during a separate HSI probe was sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison after admitting he was paid by a drug smuggling organization to recruit body carriers, including minors, to smuggle heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine from Mexico into the U.S. at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Josue Lomeli was taken into custody by HSI special agents at the San Ysidro Port of Entry May 31, 2015, on a federal arrest warrant charging him with various drug smuggling offenses. Lomeli also admitted he was at a Tijuana residence when narcotics were secured to the individual’s bodies, and that most of the people involved wore loose fitting clothing to further conceal the drugs.