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Federal authorities charge 43 suspects linked to drug-trafficking network that brought large quantities of narcotics from Mexico

LOS ANGELES – Federal officers arrested 16 defendants Wednesday and executed search warrants at a dozen locations across Southern California – including a Van Nuys taco shop and a North Hollywood auto repair business – linked to a network of drug trafficking cells and Mexico-based suppliers that imported large quantities of Mexican cocaine, heroin and high-purity crystal methamphetamine into the Los Angeles area.

Those arrested are among 43 defendants named in federal charges stemming from a 10-month wiretap investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Torrance Police Department and IRS-Criminal Investigation. During Wednesday's takedown, the U.S. Marshals Service provided substantial resources to a unified law enforcement effort that resulted in all but one of the targeted defendants being successfully taken into custody.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday morning, the investigation uncovered a loose-knit ring of drug importers, couriers and distributors operating throughout Southern California. The criminal complaint names 43 defendants, 16 of whom were arrested Wednesday. Four more defendants were already in federal custody. Authorities are continuing to search for 23 defendants, most of whom are believed to be in Mexico at this time.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint discusses four drug-distribution cells, one of which is allegedly operated by the owner of a San Fernando Valley auto shop. According to the affidavit, Gerardo Celis Gaytan, 41, of Sun Valley, who operates Campos Auto Repair in North Hollywood, was heard on federal wiretaps discussing loads of heroin and other drugs smuggled from Mexico in vehicles his auto repair shop had outfitted with hidden compartments.

In addition to the drugs allegedly smuggled in vehicles driven across the international border, the affidavit outlines a wiretapped conversation between Gaytan and another defendant – Jose Daniel Lopez, 33, a United States citizen who resides in Mexico – in which the men discuss a shipment of heroin secreted in tubes of household silicone. Lopez, who operates a Chula Vista masonry business, allegedly served as one of Gaytan's drug suppliers and also helped coordinate the transfer of money generated by the drug sales.

"This investigation has dealt a serious blow to a trafficking network we believe was funneling significant quantities of high-grade methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin into the Los Angeles area," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "In fact, the Mexican-made methamphetamine seized in this case is some of the most pure we've ever seen. Today's arrests have disrupted a potentially deadly supply chain and prevented untold quantities of dangerous drugs from reaching our streets."

During the past three months, the investigation has led to the seizure of approximately 135 pounds of methamphetamine, 15 kilograms of cocaine, 1.2 pounds of black tar heroin and $100,000 in cash.

"IRS-Criminal Investigation is a proud participant in our nation's war on drugs. Our agents' financial expertise compliments narcotics investigations by aiding in disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking organizations," said Leslie P. DeMarco, special agent in charge of the IRS-Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles Field Office. "Today's enforcement actions are a testament to the success of a multi-agency approach in drug investigations. In this instance, all of the agencies brought their combined expertise to bear to bring these drug traffickers to justice."

During Wednesday's enforcement action, officers executed a search warrant at The House of Tacos in Van Nuys. The eatery, which is operated by Gregorio Martinez Rios, 42, of North Hollywood, was allegedly used as a storage location for drugs. Rios, according to the criminal complaint, supplied Gaytan with cocaine.

Another man who allegedly supplied Gaytan with narcotics is Roberto Murillo Sanchez, 50, of Palmdale. According to the affidavit, Murillo allegedly produced methamphetamine at his residence and provided Gaytan and others with methamphetamine and cocaine.

Gaytan, Lopez, Martinez and Murillo were among the 16 defendants arrested during Wednesday's takedown. The defendants are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court in Los Angeles and San Diego Wednesday afternoon.

The criminal complaint charges 43 defendants. In addition to the four individuals discussed above, four of the cases' suspects were already in custody in San Diego. They are:

  • Rogelio Ramon Bohon Chao, 41, of Imperial Beach;
  • Jesus Jacobo Escobar, 52, of Mexico;
  • Hermila Moreno, 36, of Rialto; and
  • Florencio Fernandez Galarza, 45, of Hesperia.

The remaining defendants named in the criminal complaint are:

  • David Trujillo, 40, of Pacoima, an employee at Gaytan's auto shop, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Carlos David Martinez Galvan, 23, of Chula Vista, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Benjamin Avalos Zarate, 52, of Lompoc, who is a fugitive;
  • Nora Millan, 38, of Palmdale, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Sergio Ramos Ibarra, 23, of Adelanto, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Jaime Galarza, 44, of Apple Valley, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Jasmin Elisa Parra Barraza, 32, of Long Beach, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Rodolfo Raygoza Tiznado, 33, of Mexico, who is a fugitive;
  • Herculano Medina Rosales, 44, of Chino, who is a fugitive;
  • Joel Ahumada Pacheco, 48, of Tijuana, who is a fugitive;
  • Amador Herrera Cosio, 37, formerly of Long Beach, now a resident of Mexico, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Candelario Elias-Camacho, 47, of Mexico, who is a fugitive;
  • Jorge Fernando Bermudez, 31, of Garden Grove, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Jonas Carrillo Partida, 36, of Tijuana, who is a fugitive;
  • Ricardo Bazua Perez, 39, of Riverside, who is a fugitive;
  • Nereyda Benetiz, 40, of Riverside, who was arrested Wednesday, but prosecutors subsequently decided to dismiss charges against her;
  • Vicente Sanchez Hernandez, 40, of Sylmar, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Juan Machado Martinez, 33, of Sylmar, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Maria Cardenas Machado, 50, of San Bernardino, who was arrested Wednesday;
  • Juan Manuel Ruiz Jr., 28, of San Diego, who is at large, but has agreed to surrender to authorities Friday; and
  • a series of defendants who are charged under their first names or who are identified only as "FNU LNU" – First Name Unknown, Last Name Unknown.

All of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, a violation that carries a penalty of up to 40 years in federal prison.