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Grand jury indicts 18 in Mexico-to-Ohio heroin, money laundering and immigration document conspiracies

Grand jury indicts 18 in Mexico-to-Ohio heroin, money laundering and immigration document conspiracies

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal grand jury has charged 18 individuals in conspiracies to distribute kilogram quantities of heroin, launder money back to Mexico and run a fake immigration identification business. The charges follow a multiagency investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Delaware County Drug Task Force.

The superseding indictment was returned Sept. 24, and 14 of the defendants were arrested in Central Ohio Tuesday. Custody will be sought for four defendants in California.

According to the 16-count indictment, Diego Ernesto Castaneda-Garcia was allegedly the leader of a drug trafficking organization that received imported heroin from Mexico, repackaged it into user quantities and sold it to heroin users in and around Central Ohio.

It was further a part of the alleged drug conspiracy that defendants would arrange for workers to be smuggled into the United States from Mexico for arrival in Central Ohio to distribute heroin.

Co-conspirators allegedly packaged heroin into foil balls called “fichas” – which roughly translates to “coins” in English – containing 1/10th of a gram of narcotics. Heroin was sold to users in public parking lots by “runners” who charged $100 for a group of 15 coins.

The indictment details that one co-conspirator would act as a dispatcher taking calls and coordinating runners. Other defendants would arrange for apartments to rent for the runners to live in and purchase vehicles for runners. Other co-conspirators would create fake identification documents for the workers, including drivers licenses, permanent resident alien cards and Social Security cards. It was also a part of the alleged drug conspiracy that individuals would register automobiles and license tags in false names or in the name of a U.S. citizen in order to avoid the attention of law enforcement.

Defendants allegedly wired money on multiple occasions from storefronts in Columbus to Nayarit, Mexico.

“Special Agents with HSI and our local, state and federal partners have once again taken down a sophisticated international drug trafficking operation, suspected of untold harm in our community,” said Vance Callander, special agent in charge of HSI for Michigan and Ohio. “This organization went to great lengths to conceal their activities from law enforcement. However, today’s arrests demonstrate that HSI and our partners will be unyielding in our efforts to take down those who seek to profit from poisoning our community.”

“I’m extremely proud of the hard work and diligence of the Delaware County Drug Task Force. This is quite possibly the most complex and broad-reaching investigation that our Drug Task Force has been involved in,” said Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin. “The pervasive nature of this crime and the international implications are affirmation that these indictments and arrests could not have occurred without our state and federal partners. We are hopeful these arrests will have an impact on the illegal drug trade in the region.”

According to the indictment, a group associated with the drug traffickers was involved in the business of creating fake identification documents. This was for members of the drug trafficking group as well as members of the public who were purchasing driver’s licenses, lawful permanent resident cards and U.S. Social Security cards. The business was called “Chilango’s Perfumes” and perfumes was allegedly used as a code word for fake documents. Customers allegedly paid $120 for a “full set” – a Social Security card and resident alien card.

For example, Julia Martinez-Alvarez received a phone call from a Spanish-speaking female on August 15 who said, “I was calling you because I wanted perfume.”
Martinez-Alvarez allegedly responded, “Of course. To place your order, I need a frontal photo, with the hair up, no earrings, no glasses. Send me the photo, name, date of birth and nationality…”

Conspiring to possess with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin is a federal crime punishable by up to life prison. Laundering and conspiring to launder money, conspiring to create and creating fraudulent identification documents are each crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the cooperation of federal, state and local law enforcement, both in investigating this case and executing multiple arrests today.

Those agencies include:

  • Delaware Country Drug Task Force
  • Delaware County Sheriff’s Office
  • Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI)
  • IRS Criminal Investigation
  • Dublin Police Department
  • Ohio State Highway Patrol
  • Westerville Police Department
  • Delaware Police Department
  • Ohio National Guard Counter Drug Task Force
  • U.S. Border Patrol
  • United States Marshals Service
  • Columbus Division of Police
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Unit
  • FBI 
  • Franklin County Sheriff’s Office
  • ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations


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Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/26/2019