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July 13, 2022Kansas City, MO, United StatesNarcotics

7 more defendants plead guilty to drug-trafficking conspiracy, illegal firearms following HSI, joint law enforcement probe

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Seven more defendants have pleaded guilty in federal court to their roles in a major drug-trafficking conspiracy and to illegally possessing firearms following a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), joint law enforcement probe.

Four defendants pleaded guilty in separate appearances before U.S. District Judge Greg Kays on July 12. Sonia Lara, 32, of Independence; Haydee Griselda Erazo-Moreno, 39, a citizen of El Salvador residing in Kansas City; and Yader J. Arita, 33, of Kansas City, Kansas, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin from Jan. 1, 2014, to June 23, 2020, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Erazo-Morena also pleaded guilty to one count of using firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. Jose Antonio Soto Herrera, 60, a citizen of Mexico residing in Coachella, California, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony.

Sergio Perez-Martinez, 43, a citizen of Mexico residing in Panorama City, California, and Ruben Chigo Paz, 26, of Kansas City, pleaded guilty on July 11. Perez Martinez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Paz pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of using firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.

Melvin Aleman-Nunez, 27, of Independence, pleaded guilty on July 8, to his role in the methamphetamine and money-laundering conspiracies, and to using firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.

They are among 18 defendants who have pleaded guilty in this case.

Lara admitted that she was responsible for the distribution of at least 10 kilograms of methamphetamine and one kilogram of heroin during the drug-trafficking conspiracy.

Erazo-Moreno admitted that she was responsible for the distribution of at least five kilograms of methamphetamine and one kilogram of heroin during the drug-trafficking conspiracy.

She was involved in the sale of approximately 3.5 kilograms of methamphetamine and 1.2 kilograms of heroin to confidential sources and undercover law enforcement officers between February and October 2019. In addition, law enforcement officers in the Eastern District of Missouri purchased approximately 900 grams of heroin in controlled buys. Erazo-Moreno also admitted that she sold, traded, or possessed multiple firearms during these drug-trafficking activities.

Arita admitted that he was involved in the sale of methamphetamine to an undercover law enforcement officer on several occasions. Arita was arrested following a traffic stop on Sept. 5, 2018, in which officers found approximately three pounds (896 grams) of methamphetamine in his vehicle.

Perez-Martinez admitted that he is responsible for the distribution of at least 15 kilograms of methamphetamine during the conspiracy.

Perez-Martinez and Aleman-Nunez each admitted that Perez-Martinez supplied Aleman-Nunez with eight to 10 pounds of methamphetamine each week for five weeks. Perez-Martinez transported the methamphetamine from California to Missouri either by mail or by tractor trailer.

Perez-Martinez also admitted that he provided two kilograms of methamphetamine to Erazo-Moreno, who was paid to transport the methamphetamine to a customer in Columbia, Mo. The methamphetamine was seized by law enforcement officers when Erazo-Moreno was arrested during a traffic stop on Oct. 25, 2018. In total, Erazo-Moreno received more than six kilograms of methamphetamine from Perez-Martinez’s associates in Kansas City. Additionally, a law enforcement confidential informant conducted controlled drug purchases totaling 1,559 grams of methamphetamine, which were coordinated by Perez-Martinez.

Paz admitted that he is responsible for the distribution of more than 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine during the conspiracy. Paz admitted that he sold a total of 1,314.49 grams of methamphetamine to a law enforcement confidential source from July 13 to Dec. 4, 2018. Paz was arrested at a residence in Kansas City, in which law enforcement officers found 37 pounds of methamphetamine, one pound of heroin, and a Zenith .45-caliber pistol with a magazine.

Aleman-Nunez admitted that he sold a total 2,225.9 grams of methamphetamine to two law enforcement confidential informants. During one of those transactions on Oct. 17, 2018, Aleman-Nunez told a confidential informant that he had sold seven pounds of methamphetamine in the last few days. Aleman-Nunez was arrested on April 30, 2019, when law enforcement officers were called to his residence on a disturbance. Officers searched the residence and found a stolen handgun, ammunition, approximately half an ounce of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Under the terms of their plea agreements, Lara, Erazo-Morena, Arita, Perez-Martinez, Paz and Aleman-Nunez each must forfeit to the government a money judgment according to their drug responsibility as determined by the court at sentencing, based upon drug value calculations but not to exceed $882,000, which represents the proceeds of the unlawful distribution of more than 220 pounds of methamphetamine (based on an average price of $3,500 per pound of methamphetamine) and more than two kilograms of heroin (based on an average price of $1,400 per ounce of heroin).

Under federal statutes, Erazo-Morena, Arita, and Aleman-Nunez each are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. Lara and Perez-Martinez each are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. Paz is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

It was investigated by HSI, the FBI, the Independence Police Department, the Jackson County Drug Task Force, the Kansas City Police Department, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bruce Rhoades and Robert M. Smith.

This case 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.

Learn more about HSI’s mission to combat drug trafficking in your community on Twitter @HSIKansasCity.

HSI is 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 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 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: 07/13/2022