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December 3, 2020San Diego, CAUnited StatesNarcotics

ICE, federal agents seize $3.5 million in cash and drugs at truck yard in Otay Mesa

Believed to be largest single seizure of cash, narcotics and ammunition in San Diego history

SAN DIEGO – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents worked with other federal agents to bring down three Mexican nationals suspected of trafficking huge quantities of illicit drugs for the Sinaloa Cartel. They were charged in federal court Nov. 24 in connection with what is believed to be the largest single cumulative seizure of cash, narcotics and ammunition discovered in this district. The seizure included approximately $3.5 million in bulk U.S. currency, 685 kilograms of cocaine, 24 kilograms of fentanyl and approximately 20,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition and hundreds of body armor vests at a truck yard in Otay Mesa, which is in the city of San Diego, California.

Jesus Burgos Arias, Juan Alatorre Venegas, and Jose Yee Perez were arrested on Nov. 20, 2020, as a result of a broader long-term joint investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, targeting associates of the Sinaloa Cartel. The defendants were charged with a drug trafficking conspiracy in a complaint filed in federal court. This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation.

“This seizure is significant not just because of its size, but because it demonstrates the direct correlation between narcotics, illicit money, and guns that drives violence in our communities and destroys lives,” said Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Cardell T. Morant. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and prosecutors to aggressively pursue the Sinaloa Cartel and other transnational criminal organizations.”

The case is part of a 5-year investigation led by the Southern District of California, that, in total, has resulted in charges against over 125 people and has had a significant impact on the worldwide operations of the Sinaloa Cartel. This investigation has also offered one of the most comprehensive views to date of the inner workings of one of the world’s most prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels. Cartel members and associates were targeted in this massive investigation involving multiple countries, numerous law enforcement agencies around the United States, a number of federal districts and over 250 court-authorized wiretaps in this district alone.

“This historic seizure and prosecution is a clear indication of the success of our joint investigative efforts,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “To eradicate this threat to San Diego and our partners in the Republic of Mexico, we will continue to aggressively attack the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug smuggling, money laundering, and arms smuggling operations – depriving them of their illegal merchandise, their profits and a safe haven.” Brewer praised prosecutor Matthew J. Sutton and the federal and local agents and officers for their excellent work on this case.

“Thanks to the collaborative work with our state and federal law enforcement partners, we are able to announce this blow to the Mexican Cartels operating in San Diego,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery. “We are further encouraged that we were able to separate them from their dangerous .50 caliber ammunition and over $3 million in drug proceeds that they have gained through selling death here in our community and throughout the US.”

“The Sheriff's Department is committed in working with our justice partners throughout the region to combat the dangerous drugs and violence associated with narcotic trafficking,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore. “Sheriff's deputies see the destruction and damage that illegal drugs cause every day. We are proud of what this case has accomplished, and the continued work being done to hold these criminals accountable.”

The investigation first began in late 2011 as a probe of what was at first believed to be a small-scale drug distribution cell in National City and Chula Vista. It became evident that the drugs were being supplied by the Sinaloa Cartel, and the case evolved into a massive multinational, multi-state probe that resulted in scores of arrests and seizures of 1,397 kilograms of methamphetamine, 2,214 kilograms of cocaine, 17.2 tons of marijuana, 95.84 kilograms of heroin and $27,892,706 in narcotics proceeds.

Updated: 12/03/2020