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May 28, 2021Chicago, United StatesNarcotics

17 defendants charged in drug trafficking probe targeting heroin and cocaine sales in Chicago following HSI, local law enforcement, investigation

CHICAGO — A joint HSI and local law enforcement drug trafficking investigation has resulted in federal charges against 17 individuals for distributing or attempting to distribute heroin and cocaine, Thursday.

During the multi-year probe, dubbed “Operation Tragic Blow,” law enforcement seized multiple kilograms of heroin and cocaine, including a 14-kilogram cocaine seizure in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood and a two-kilogram heroin seizure in a high-rise apartment building in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood. The joint federal and local investigation, led by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Chicago Police Department (CPD), utilized extensive undercover and covert surveillance operations to shut down the defendants’ drug trafficking activities.

Many of the 17 federal defendants were arrested Wednesday and have begun making initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In addition to the 17 federal defendants, two other individuals were charged in state court as part of this investigation.

“The charging and arrests of these individuals reflects our commitment to standing in the way of criminals who endanger our community by trafficking in narcotics,” said Special Agent in Charge Angie Salazar who oversees HSI operations in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. “Yesterday’s operation was not the first of its kind and it will not be the last. We will keep working tirelessly to disrupt the flow of drugs into the Chicago and surrounding areas.”

The federal charges were announced by HSI SAC Angie Salazar; John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and David Brown, Superintendent of CPD. Substantial assistance was provided by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aaron Bond, Erin Kelly, and Brian Kerwin represent the government.

This investigation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.

Charged with a federal drug offense are: Yarnell Allen, 41, of Dolton, Ill.; Ulises Avina, 32, of Chicago; Oscar Balderama, 42, of Chicago; Celestino Barahona-Serrano, 38, of Chicago; Diego Galeana-Gonzaga, 35, of Mexico; Margarito Galeana-Gomez, 36, of Mexico; Jose Gonzaga, 58, of Chicago; Rafael Medellin Jr., 32, of Chicago; Richard C. Rincon, 39, of Oak Lawn, Ill.; Juan Rosas-Cabrera, 31, of Mexico; Sergio Sanchez-Chavez, 36, of Mexico; Francisco Sanchez-Yanez, 32, of Chicago; Antonio Segura, 39, of Oak Lawn, Ill.; Jorge A. Valdez, 40, of Chicago; Virginia Vazquez-Perez, 37, of Cicero, Ill.; Delvin Williams, 42, of Chicago; and Rafael Zarco-Picazo, 33, of Chicago.

According to criminal complaints unsealed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Zarco-Picazo sold distribution levels of cocaine to Jorge Valdez, who in turn re-sold it in smaller quantities to customers in Chicago. Law enforcement on Jan. 30, 2021, seized 14 kilograms of cocaine from Zarco-Picazo’s Nissan Z sedan, which was parked at a residence in the 2300 block of North Menard Avenue in Chicago, the charges allege. The cocaine was packed into several bricks and hidden behind a speaker console, the complaint states.

The complaint also describes the heroin seizure in the high-rise apartment building in the 4200 block of North Marine Drive in Chicago. Galeana-Gomez and Gonzaga had allegedly conspired to sell nearly two kilograms of heroin to an undercover law enforcement officer and an individual who was surreptitiously cooperating with law enforcement. On the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2020, Gonzaga attempted to sell the heroin, which was wrapped in two vacuum-sealed bricks, to the undercover officer and the cooperating individual in the building’s underground parking garage. Law enforcement arrested Gonzaga and then searched two apartments on the 27th-floor of the building, where they discovered supplies used to package narcotics, including a heat sealer, vacuum sealer rolls, and a digital scale, the complaint states.

Other alleged illicit transactions cited in the charges include a two-kilogram cocaine deal on April 30, 2020, involving Segura and Allen behind a residence in the 6100 block of South Talman Avenue in Chicago’s Chicago Lawn neighborhood, and a kilogram of heroin distributed by Galeana-Gonzaga in two separate deliveries – 720 grams to Williams at an apartment building in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, and 280 grams to Vazquez-Perez in a vehicle in the 2900 block of North Cicero Avenue in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood.

“As we pursue this public safety mission, we will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and prosecuting partners,” continued Salazar, “We stand united in our pursuit of accountability for those who threaten our communities.”

The public is reminded that a complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 05/28/2021