News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2007
Contact: SA Mike Turner, PIO
Number: 303-705-7446

Durango, Colorado Drug Trafficking Organization Dismantled
Durango Force Arrested 23 Dealers and Seized Meth and Cash

DEC 17 -- (DURANGO, CO) – Jeffrey D. Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Rocky Mountain Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Troy Eid, United States Attorney (USA) for the District of Colorado, announced today the conclusion of a multi-jurisdictional investigation initiated by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area funded - Southwest Drug Task Force (SWDTF) into the drug trafficking activities of a drug trafficking organization (DTO) based out of Durango, CO. This DTO was identified by the SWDTF as early as 2000 and according to SWDTF, at least 35 drug related investigations are associated with this DTO as a source of supply for multi-pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana to this region. It was proposed in November 2006 through the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Colorado that this case be designated as an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation because of the multi-state jurisdictions involved.

During the course of this investigation, titled Operation Escorpian, it was learned that DTO leadership had ties to Sinaloa, Nayarit and Durango, Mexico. Domestically, this investigation had links to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California.

SAC Sweetin said, “The citizens of La Plata County are the winners. Through their professionalism and dedication, the SWDTF has driven the price of meth up and availability down. Why does that matter? It matters because methamphetamine and crime go hand in hand. By dismantling this drug trafficking organization, we not only took 23 drug dealers off the street, we also put 23 career criminals behind bars. Less meth. = less crime, priceless.”

“Dismantling this major drug trafficking organization needed to be done for the sake of the Four Corners Region,” said USA Eid, a Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area board member. “This 18 month investigation was a textbook example of effective inter-agency cooperation.”

It was through the investigative efforts of the SWDTF and other federal and state agencies that this organization was dismantled. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Durango, Colorado, the 22nd Judicial District Task Force out of Montezuma County, Colorado, drug investigators in Archuleta County and the Region II Drug Task Force based out of San Juan County, New Mexico are a few of the agencies that participated in this investigation. The SWDTF is composed of investigators from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Ignacio Police Department, Colorado Bureau of Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

During this 18-month investigation, which began in June 2006, 23 members were arrested. Eight members were indicted federally and the remaining defendants are in the process or have been prosecuted within the District of La Plata and Montezuma County, Colorado. Some of the defendants have already pled guilty. The charges range from federal immigration and possession with intent to distribute to Colorado state violations for distribution of methamphetamine. The names of those who have been arrested and or are waiting to be charged are as follows:

1. James Lee Butler, Jr. - Durango, Colorado. 44 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado and was sentenced to 10 years Colorado Department of Corrections.

2. Carlos Chavez-Navarette - Zacualpan, Nayarit, Mexico. 36 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado and was sentenced to 10 years Colorado Department of Corrections.

3. Dale Dean Wonderling - Durango, Colorado. 32 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado and was sentenced to 6 years Colorado Department of Corrections.

4. Lukas William Schultz - Durango, Colorado. 29 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Schultz will be prosecuted in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado.

5. Jessica Martha Jennings - Durango, Colorado. 24 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado and was sentenced to 4 years probation.

6. Rigoberto Urzua-Garcia - Nayarit, Mexico. 30 years of age. Arrested for felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Urzua will be prosecuted federally in the District of Colorado.

7. Jaime Enriquez-Ramos - Mexico. 32 years of age. Arrested for felony of aggravated reentry by a deported felon and facing federal immigration charges in the District of Colorado.

8. Jeremy William Page - Durango, Colorado. 25 years of age. Arrested for felony of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Pled guilty to federal charges in the District of Colorado is awaiting sentencing.

9. Tuesday Marie Olson - Durango, Colorado. 20 years of age. Arrested for felony of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Olson will be federally prosecuted in the District of Colorado.

10. Joshua Milton McGowan - Durango, Colorado. 30 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. McGowan will be prosecuted in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado.

11. Gidardo Felix-Alvarez - Sinaloa, Mexico. 33 years of age. Arrested for felony of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Felix-Alvarez will be federally prosecuted in the District of Colorado.

12. Victor Ramirez-Medina - Mexico. 35 years of age. Arrested for felony of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Ramirez-Medina will be federally prosecuted in the District of Colorado.

13. Jeanine Lea Hartman - Montezuma County, Colorado. 29 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Pled guilty in the 22nd Judicial District of Colorado and is awaiting sentencing.

14. Christopher Anthony Masters - Durango, Colorado. 35 years of age. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Masters will be prosecuted in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado.

15. Loreto Salazar-Rios – Mexico. 24 years of age. Extradited to Arizona for felony warrant on methamphetamine possession.

16. Nick Victor Layva - Durango, Colorado. 44 years of age. Awaiting prosecution in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado for distribution of a controlled substance.

17. Emily Chandler Gibson - Durango, Colorado. Arrested for felony of distribution of methamphetamine. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado and was sentenced to 2 years probation.

18. Adan Rodriguez-Candia - Durango, Colorado and Durango, Mexico. 27 years of age. Awaiting prosecution in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado for felony of distribution of methamphetamine and federal immigration charges.

19. Travis Ray Gilbert - Ignacio, Colorado. 19 years of age. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado for felony of possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to probation.

20. Flora Jo Hefner - Durango, Colorado. 20 years of age. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado for felony of possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to probation.

21. Jose Phillip Gallegos - Ignacio, Colorado. 19 years of age. Pled guilty in the 6th Judicial District of Colorado for felony of possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to five years community corrections.

22. Emilo Linares Meraz - Mexico. 23 years of age. Arrested for felony of aggravated reentry by a deported felon. Received one-year in federal prison.

23. Oswald Del Prado-Martinez - New Mexico, Arizona, Sinaloa Mexico. 27 years of age. Arrested for conspiracy to distribute controlled substance in the District of New Mexico. Pled guilty and sentenced to four years federal prison.

During the investigation, the SWDTF seized approximately four pounds of methamphetamine, approximately a ½ pound of cocaine, and two ounces of marijuana. An additional five pounds of methamphetamine and two kilograms of Cocaine were seized by other law enforcement agencies that can be attributed to this organization. The street value alone of the nine pounds of methamphetamine is in excess of $320,000. To date, approximately $94,000 in cash drug proceeds have been seized, including more than $80,000 that was seized from a hidden compartment in vehicle in Flagstaff, Arizona. Furthermore, five weapons were seized by the SWDTF during this investigation.

The investigation began in May 2006, when information was obtained that James Lee Butler, Jr. was involved in the sale of large amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine for the DTO. The SWDTF subsequently arrested Butler three times during the investigation and a total of approximately ¼ pound of seized methamphetamine was attributed to Butler alone. The three times that Butler was arrested, he had a pistol in his possession. Prior to his last arrest, Butler shot at an individual, whom he thought was providing information to the police. Butler subsequently pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years within the Colorado Department of Corrections.

A former organization member in the investigation stated the DTO chose this region in Colorado since they believed that they would be able to conduct their (drug) business because of the remoteness and that the local people would be afraid of them. La Plata County, Colorado has a population of approximately 60,000.

Emilio Linares Meraz, who collected money for the organization stated that on an average week he would collect $10,000 in drug proceeds from the sale of methamphetamine and would be paid $500 per week for collecting the money. Immigration Customs Enforcement has since deported Meraz.

As for the impact on this organization, it is clear that most members have been arrested. Recently, Joshua Milton McGowan, a mid-level broker, was arrested for distribution of methamphetamine and is facing felony charges in the 6th District of Colorado. McGowan stated that methamphetamine users in La Plata County Colorado are complaining that they have to go to New Mexico to procure methamphetamine because their sources for the methamphetamine in this region had been arrested. Another strong indicator that dealers are reluctant about selling methamphetamine is that the price of methamphetamine has more than doubled in Southwest Colorado since the arrests.