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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 30, 2005

Arrests Made in International Heroin Conspiracy

Boston, MA... In an international DEA-led investigation dubbed "Operation High Step," a series of coordinated arrests were executed today in Massachusetts, New York, Florida, and Colombia, South America in connection with alleged conspiracies to import heroin from Colombia for distribution in various locations in the United States including Massachusetts, Florida, and New York, and to distribute heroin in Massachusetts. A total of 17 individuals have been charged in Massachusetts, including 4 citizens of Colombia.

June W. Stansbury, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan; Colonel Thomas G. Robbins, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; Steve S. Mazzie, Chief of the Everett Police Department; John W. Suslak, Chief of the Lynn Police Department, and Brigadier General Jorge Alirio Baron Leguizamon, Anti-Narcotics Chief for the Colombian National Police, announced the Massachusetts charges today following the early morning arrests of 10 defendants in Massachusetts, 1 in Florida, 1 in New York and 4 in Colombia. The arrest of a final defendant is still being sought in Massachusetts. Those defendants arrested in Massachusetts will appear later today before a U.S. Magistrate Judge.

According to an Indictment and affidavits filed in support of two criminal Complaints, it is alleged that JULIO CARTAGENA is a leader of a heroin and cocaine distribution organization that operates in Everett, Malden, Medford, Lynn, Charlestown, Lawrence and other parts of Massachusetts. It is alleged that LUIS LOPEZ is the primary supplier of heroin to CARTAGENA. It is alleged that LOPEZ has arranged with suppliers in Colombia to import multi-kilogram quantities of heroin from Colombia into the United States for eventual distribution in Massachusetts and other locations. It is alleged that LOPEZ maintains residences in Massachusetts and Florida, that he frequently travels to New York City, and that he has frequent contact with a large-scale heroin and cocaine distribution organization operating in Colombia and other locations outside the United States. It is alleged that a male known to investigators only by the alias "Alex," resides in Queens, New York and is an employee of the Colombian distribution organization. It is alleged that in November 2005, LOPEZ delivered $50,000 in cash to "Alex" for shipments of heroin from the Colombian organization. It is alleged that four defendants residing in Colombia and named in the Indictment are members of the heroin organization in Colombia and that the other defendants charged in the Complaint are heroin distributors for LOPEZ and/or CARTAGENA in Massachusetts.

The investigation involved judicially-authorized wiretaps of over 100 telephones in Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Colombia. The cooperative international investigative effort resulted in a single seizure of 16 kilograms of heroin in Cartagena, Colombia by the Colombian National Police ("CNP") on October 8, 2005. It is alleged that this heroin, which was secreted in a shipment of Asian art glass paintings, was intended to be shipped to LOPEZ in Florida for ultimate distribution in Massachusetts and elsewhere by CARTAGENA and others involved in the conspiracy.

"As this investigation demonstrates, distance, continents, and countries' borders are not enough to deter the investigation and prosecution of drug traffickers when international law enforcement work together in partnership," stated U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan."Investigations such as this are the most effective in fighting the tide of illegal drugs crossing into the United States - they allow for the dismantling of drug trafficking organizations from the wholesale suppliers at the very top to the street-level distributors at the bottom."

"The illegal activities of a major drug trafficking organization have been extinguished today. Earlier this morning that criminal group was dismantled from top to bottom including the manufacturing plants in Colombia, the trans-shipment hubs in Florida and the distribution points including into Massachusetts. Instead of being able to continue to flood our communities with heroin, they have been wiped out," stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Stansbury. "Again we have shown that international boundaries will not protect these drug dealers. DEA is committed to ensuring there will be no lull in the battle against drugs."

Named in the Indictment returned by a Massachusetts federal Grand Jury were:

  1. LUIS A. LOPEZ, age 51, of 50 Water Street, Medford, MA;
  2. GONZALO SALAZAR-OLIVEROS, age 51, of, Cali, Colombia, South America;
  3. DIEGO FERNANDO OROZCO-MENDEZ, age 32, of Pereira, Colombia, South America;
  4. LEONEL LONDONO-CARDONA, age 43, of Pereira, Colombia, South America; and
  5. JOSE ESCIPION FERNANDEZ-PINO, age 34, of Cali, Colombia, South America.

Specifically, the above defendants are charged with one count of Conspiracy to Import over One Kilogram of Heroin from Colombia into the United States. Additionally, SALAZAR-OLIVEROS and LONDONO-CARDONA are charged with Distribution of over One Kilogram of Heroin in Colombia intending that such heroin would be imported into the United States. Upon conviction, each of the defendants faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment up to a maximum of life on the Conspiracy charge. SALAZAR-OLIVEROS and LONDONO-CARDONA also face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment up to a maximum of life on the Distribution of Heroin charge.

Named in the first criminal Complaint filed in the District of Massachusetts are:

  1. JULIO CARTAGENA, age 47, of 40 Rockland Avenue, Malden, MA;
  2. LUIS A. LOPEZ, age 51, of 50 Water Street, Medford, MA;
  3. First Name Unknown Last Name Unknown, a/k/a. “Alex," age unknown, of 6501 Lamont Avenue, Queens, New York City, NY;
  4. PABLO R. BAEZ, age 49, of 68 Washington Street, in Malden, MA;
  5. ALBERTO M. BENVAL, age 42, of 15 Staples Avenue, Everett, MA;
  6. LESLIHE ABAD, age unknown, of 21 McDonough Way, South Boston, MA;
  7. ERNESTO PEREZ, age 46, of 18 Lawton Street, Lynn, MA;
  8. SIXTO RIVERA, age 41, of 7 Merdian Street, Malden, MA;
  9. VICTOR VEGA, age 50, of 90 Cummings Avenue, Revere, MA;
  10. DAURIN ARIAS, age 36, of 69 Stanwood Street, Dorchester, MA; and
  11. FELIX RAMIREZ, age 32, of 91 Veterans Road, Winthrop, MA.

The defendants are all charged in the Complaint with Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin. If convicted, each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Named in the second criminal Complaint filed in the District of Massachusetts are:

  1. RICHARD DURAN, age 23, of 16 Avon Street, Everett, Massachusetts; and
  2. ANTONIO MOLINA, age 45, of 24 Argyle Street, Everett, MA.

The defendants are charged in the Complaint with Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin. If convicted, each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The arrest of MOLINA is still being sought.

The investigation is continuing.

The case in the District of Massachusetts is being investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's New England Field Office, the Massachusetts State Police, and the Lynn and Everett Police Departments in cooperation with the Colombian National Police, Anti-Narcotics. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Neil Gallagher, Jr. and David Tobin in Sullivan’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Unit.

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