HSI investigation results in 27 arrests of accused NM drug traffickers
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Twenty-seven individuals remain in federal custody after their arrest during Operation "Brown Ice," which targeted drug trafficking in northwestern New Mexico Feb. 26.
This yearlong case was investigated by the following agencies: U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the San Juan (N.M.) County Sheriff's Department, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Region II Narcotics Task Force; and the New Mexico police departments of Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec.
Twenty-nine individuals residing in San Juan County and a woman from Meza, Ariz., face drug-trafficking charges resulting from the multi-agency investigation. On Feb. 26, agents arrested 25 of the 29 defendants during an early-morning law enforcement operation led by HSI and the HIDTA Region II Narcotics Task Force. Two other defendants were arrested during the course of the investigation.
Two federal defendants are considered fugitives: Fay Gordon, 29, of Farmington, charged in counts 1 and 11, and Casey LaMotte, 28, of Flora Vista, N.M., charged in counts 1 and 12. [Update: Casey LaMotte turned himself in to authorities March 1; only Fay Gordon remains a fugitive.]
The charges against the 29 defendants resulted from Operation "Brown Ice" that initially targeted a methamphetamine-trafficking organization allegedly led by Isaac Anaya, who distributed methamphetamine throughout San Juan County. The criminal network subsequently expanded to include other drug trafficking activity in the area.
This investigation was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a nationwide Department of Justice program that combines the resources and expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
"HSI continues to work vigilantly with our law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking networks that smuggle and traffic vile drugs, such as methamphetamine," said Dennis A. Ulrich, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. "HSI special agents are committed to preventing drugs from crossing our border and poisoning our neighborhoods." Ulrich oversees HSI operations in the 17 westernmost counties of Texas and the state of New Mexico.
After the operation, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough said, "This investigation illustrates once again the success enjoyed by our partnership of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in taking down drug trafficking organizations, whether they operate in large metropolitan areas or small, rural communities. Today (Feb. 26), HSI and our state and local partners made a significant impact on drug traffickers operating in rural communities in San Juan County."
Thirteen of the defendants, including Isaac Anaya, 30, of Farmington, charged as a result of the investigation, face federal charges in a 15-count federal indictment alleging a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in San Juan County from May 2013 through September 2013. The other 16 defendants face state drug-trafficking and firearms charges based on criminal complaints.
During the course of the investigation, officers seized about five pounds of methamphetamine and five firearms. Operation "Brown Ice" resulted in the Feb. 26 execution of 11 federal search warrants – two in Bloomfield, four in Farmington and two in San Juan County residences. Federal warrants were also served in area businesses – two in Bloomfield and two in Farmington; another was served in a storage unit in Bloomfield.
The operation also included executing state search warrants at three residences – two in San Juan County and another in Farmington. While executing the search warrants, agents seized the following items: a fully automatic Glock 19 handgun, a short-barreled carbine rifle with an obliterated serial number, four blasting caps, four small binary explosives, and 31.7 grams of methamphetamine.
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said, "I am proud of the efforts of the Region II and HSI agents who put this case together. This partnership from state, local and federal agencies is an example of what can be accomplished when we work together to make our communities safer."
"I want to thank all of the participating agencies who assisted in the operation. Specifically, HSI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have shown a continuing commitment to our community," said Lt. Neil Haws, director of the HIDTA Region II Narcotics Task Force. "I am very proud to have worked alongside the HSI and Region II agents who worked this case for the past year. This has been a very successful operation that will have a significant impact on our community."
Defendants Charged in Federal Case
Count 1 of the 15-count indictment charges the 13 federal defendants with methamphetamine-trafficking conspiracy. Counts 2 and 3 each charge a defendant with distributing methamphetamine. Counts 4 through 6 each charges certain defendants with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. If convicted, the maximum penalty on each of these six counts is a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Counts 7 through 15 each charges certain defendants with using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense, and carries a maximum of four years in prison and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.
The following individuals, who are in custody, are charged in the federal case on these counts:
- Isaac Anaya, 30, of Farmington – counts 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 15;
- Julia Oros, also known as Julia Gonzalez, 30, of Mesa, Ariz. – counts 1, 7 and 10;
- Curtis Murray, Sr., 50, of Farmington – counts 1 and 8;
- Brandon Smith, 28, of Farmington – counts 1, 6, and 13;
- Bobby Hampton, 29, of Bloomfield – counts 1 and 9;
- Pedro Lucero, 37, of Farmington – counts 1, 5 and 10;
- Yvonne Anaya, 38, of Bloomfield – counts 1 and 15;
- Robert Valdez, 50, of Bloomfield – counts 1 and 14; and
- Richard Archuleta, 32, of Bloomfield – counts 1 and 14.
Ernesto Felix, 51, of Arizona, and Wesley Contreras, 19, of Farmington, are charged with counts 1 and 4. They are in state custody on a related drug trafficking charge and will be transferred to federal custody.
Defendants Charged in State Cases
The following defendants, who have been arrested, are charged in criminal complaints filed in the 11th Judicial District Court for the State of New Mexico:
- Larry Abeyta, 25, of Farmington – parole violation;
- Cimmaron Archuleta, 32, of Bloomfield – trafficking by possession with intent to distribute;
- Patrick Archuleta, 34, of Farmington – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine) and felon possessing a firearm;
- Leonard Barela, 33, of Bloomfield – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Phermond Begay, 32, of Aztec – arrested for distributing marijuana;
- Rusty Betts, 32, of Farmington – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Tiffany Bond, 33, of Farmington – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Colby Crawford, 40, of Flora Vista, N.M. – trafficking a controlled substance (heroin);
- Derek Hellickson, 26, of Farmington – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Anthony Jones, 34, of Farmington – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine)
- Aaron Mobley, 35, of Aztec – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Amy Oros, 24, of Farmington – possessing a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Philippe Reyes, 35, of Farmington – possessing a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Leon Serrano, 30, of Bloomfield – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine);
- Hollis Turner, 22, of Aztec – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine); and
- Jobie Wells, 38, of Bloomfield – trafficking a controlled substance (methamphetamine).
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Reeve L. Swainston and Shana B. Long are prosecuting the federal case; Assistant District Attorney David Cowen of the 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office is prosecuting the state cases.
In addition to the investigating agencies, the following agencies also participated in the Feb. 26 enforcement action: U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, New Mexico State Police, and the New Mexico Attorney General's Office.