FIFTEEN DEFENDANTS HANDED DOWN COMBINED 76.8 YEARS SENTENCE FOR DISTRIBUTION OF OVER 118 POUNDS OF METHAMPHETAMINE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 29, 2012
LEAD DEFENDANTS SENTENCED TO COMBINED 28 YEARS IN PRISON
& COMBINED SEVEN YEARS SUPERVISED RELEASE
Springdale, Arkansas - Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced today that an investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration with the assistance of multiple local and state agencies into drug trafficking activities in the Northwest Arkansas area, has resulted in a sentence of a combined total of 76.8 years for fifteen defendants all of which were residing in Springdale. The lead defendants Celen Zendjas, age 27 was sentenced to 28 years in prison and three years supervised release; Eberardo Coria-Hernandez, age 20 was sentenced to 10 years in prison and four years supervised release. The investigation, known as Operation La Pantera Negra, has been ongoing for over two years and has resulted in the prosecution of a total of 31 individuals over the course of its investigation. U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren handed down the sentences in the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
United States Attorney Eldridge commented, “Prosecuting Drug Trafficking Organizations in Northwest Arkansas and throughout the Western District that threaten our community is a top priority in this office. Our goal is to make Northwest Arkansas safe from the drug trade and related criminal activity, and this would not be possible without the hard work of federal, state and local law enforcement.”
According to court documents and other information disclosed in court, DEA agents conducted multiple undercover purchases in February 2011 leading officers to obtain a search warrant for a residence in Fayetteville. During this search, officers recovered approximately 20 pounds of methamphetamine. In February 2012, DEA Agents followed three targets of the investigation to Dallas, Texas where a stash house was located. Through surveillance, agents witnessed three individuals pick up methamphetamine from the stash house. Following a traffic stop, agents seized 2.2 pounds of methamphetamine. Based on information that developed during the traffic stop, officers obtained and executed a search warrant on the stash house, resulting in a seizure of 83 pounds of methamphetamine and the arrest of two additional suspects. Agents also seized six vehicles, one weapon and approximately $48,000.00.
The fifteen defendants were sentenced as follows:
- Wilber Alvarenga, age 31 - (48) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Gregorio Carranza, age 28 - (48) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Rodolfo Carrillo, age 41 - no prison term with one year of supervised release
- Porfirio Castro-Ruiz, age 47 - (27) months in prison with one year of supervised release
- Eberardo Coria-Hernandez, age 20 - (121) months in prison with four years of supervised release
- Donna Daosavanh, age 24 - (37) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Omar Frias, age 30 - (42) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Dianna Gandert, age 28 - (48) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Jose Herrera, age 26 - (60) months in prison with four years of supervised release
- Marlene Martinez, age 27 - (62) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Jose Mejia-Machado, age 44 - (84) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Tamera Rivera, age 31 - (30) months in prison with three years of supervised release
- Jeffery Ruano, age 26 - (12) months plus one day in prison with no supervised release
- Ana Vaca-Gomez, age 34 - (87) months in prison with four years of supervised release
- Celen Zendejas, age 27 - (216) months in prison with three years of supervised release
On March 6, 2012, a federal grand jury for the Western District of Arkansas returned an indictment charging 15 defendants with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, multiple counts of distribution of methamphetamine and money laundering. The fifteen defendants later pleaded guilty to the various charges. Over the course of the two and a half year investigation, 31 defendants have been charged and law enforcement officers have seized over 118 pounds of methamphetamine, over $82,000, 16 vehicles and 12 firearms.
This case was initiated by the Northwest Arkansas Major Investigative Team which is comprised of: The Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Arkansas State Police, Fayetteville Police Department, Springdale Police Department, Bentonville Police Department, Rogers Police Department and the Arkansas National Guard. Homeland Security Investigations and the 4th Judicial District Drug Task Force also assisted. The Northwest Arkansas Major Investigative Team is a part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“HIDTA”) program. Washington and Benton Counties are considered High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. As a result, additional federal funds are provided for investigation and prosecution of drug cases. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes.
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