20 Indicted For Heroin Trafficking Following Joint Investigation
APR 10 - (Los Angeles) – The United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California has indicted 20 persons for heroin distribution and sales following a 10-month joint investigation with the DEA; the Redlands Police Department; and members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department narcotics unit.
Since February 28 as part of this investigation, a total of 15 people have been taken into custody, including three arrested since Friday. The investigation is continuing as police attempt to locate and take into custody the remaining suspects.
“This investigation targeted an organization that was responsible for importing and distributing heroin throughout the Inland Empire, wreaking havoc on our families and communities,” said Briane M. Grey, Acting DEA Special Agent in Charge. “The DEA and our law enforcement partners are determined to send a message to these drug trafficking organizations that we will not tolerate any kind of drug trafficking.”
Over the course of this 10-month investigation, members of the joint Street Enforcement Team identified the 20 defendants as members of a heroin "cell," dealing more than half a kilo a week of Mexican "tar" heroin in the East Valley portions of San Bernardino County, including Redlands, Yucaipa, and Highland.
The investigation was launched in June 2011 after Redlands police noted a growing number of heroin-related arrests and overdoses in 2010 and early 2011. Since August 2010, 11 residents of Redlands and the surrounding communities between the ages of 18 and 26 have died as a result of heroin overdose.
The Task Force, which included members of the Redlands Police narcotics unit, deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, special agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Assistant United States Attorneys from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California and a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Criminal Intelligence Specialist from California Department of Justice worked together to target heroin trafficking and street dealing in the area.
According to investigators, the local organization is connected to drug suppliers in Mexico with each local cell of the organization operating as a pyramid including a local supplier, "runners" and street level dealers trafficking in heroin to local users.
The federal indictments charge 20 members of the conspiracy with violating 21 U.S.C. § 846: Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin and 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), (b)(1)(C): Possession With Intent and Distribution of Heroin. These charges carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison for those members without any prior drug felonies. For those members of the conspiracy with prior drug felonies, these charges carry a maximum term of life imprisonment.
"In this operation, federal and local resources have been seamlessly integrated in order to put heroin traffickers in the Inland Empire out of business," said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr., whose office is handling the prosecution of the case. “We want the public in San Bernardino County to know that the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration are committed to working with our local partners, at both the city and county level, to dismantle the criminal organizations that threaten their well-being and to insure their safety.”
The federal indictments include: Salvador Gonzalez-Chavez, Jose Perez Hernandez, John James Flores, Victor Hugo Padron Mendez, Luz Maria Medina-Nieves, Jimmy Nieves, Luz Myriam Nieves-Cruz, Angela Aragonez, Peter Francisco Flores, Daniel Martinez, Steven Kelly Olalia, Fabian Jose-Maria Villanueva, Alvaro Medina, Mario Sandoval, Lupe Hidalgo-Martinez, Nereida Cynthia Puente, Fernando Salazar, Roberto Gutierrez, David Reyes-Sandoval, Irene Arvizu.Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Redlands Police Dispatch at (909) 798-7681. Callers may remain anonymous. Anonymous tips can also be provided by texting 274637 using the keyword “REDTIP.”