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Press Release

Federal Inmate and Eight Co-Conspirators Indicted for International Drug Trafficking

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

An indictment was unsealed in the District of North Dakota today charging a federal inmate and eight co-conspirators with international methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl trafficking.

According to court documents, since January 2022, Jesus Amurahaby Celestin-Ortega, also known as Flaco, 26, allegedly engaged in drug-related and money laundering conspiracies, and a continuing criminal enterprise, while incarcerated at a federal prison on unrelated drug and firearm charges. Celestin-Ortega allegedly operated a criminal network using a contraband cellphone from inside the federal prison to import and distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, more than one kilogram of heroin, and more than 400 grams of fentanyl. Celestin-Ortega allegedly directed and coordinated the importation of the substances into the United States and their distribution within North Dakota, Minnesota, California, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, and elsewhere. Celestin-Ortega also allegedly conspired to launder drug proceeds from the United States to Mexico.

Celestin-Ortega’s eight co-conspirators—Trinidad Torres Meraz, 58, of Riverside, California; Edgar Hernandez, also known as Ivan Edgar Hernandez Vasquez, 43; Maria De La Cruz Estrada Moreno, 40, of El Paso, Texas; Jesse Rocha, 25, of Denver; Rafael Bueno-Nava, 49, of Fridley, Minnesota; Ryan James Stevens, 41, of Arvada, Colorado; Christian Ivan Gonzalez, 31, of Phoenix; and Martina Lucia Mendez, 26, of Gilbert, Arizona—are charged with participating in the distribution conspiracy. Five of the co-conspirators—Torres Meraz, Estrada Moreno, Bueno-Nava, Stevens, and Mendez—also allegedly conspired to import methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl from Mexico into the United States. Three of the conspirators—Torres Meraz, Estrada Moreno, and Bueno-Nava—are charged with additional money laundering conspiracy charges. Celestin-Ortega and six of the co-conspirators have been arrested on the indictment and have made their initial appearances in court. Hernandez and Mendez remain fugitives. 

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of life in prison on the drug distribution conspiracy counts and the importation conspiracy counts, and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the money laundering conspiracy counts.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Mac Schneider for the District of North Dakota; Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Special Agent in Charge Steven T. Bell of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Omaha Field Division; Inspector in Charge Bryan S. Musgrove of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Denver Division; and Special Agent in Charge Thomas F. Murdock of IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

This case is part of an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces operation.

HSI, DEA, USPIS, IRS-CI, Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and Grand Forks Police Department are investigating the case, with critical support from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ National Gang Unit. The Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section’s Special Operations Unit and the Office of Enforcement Operations also provided essential support and coordination.

Trial Attorneys Lernik Begian and Tara Arndt of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher C. Myers and Matthew P. Kopp for the District of North Dakota are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated June 26, 2024

Topic
Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 24-816