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Press Release

Forty-Seven Defendants Charged in Imperial Valley Takedown of Drug Trafficking Network Linked to Sinaloa Cartel

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Fourteen indictments were unsealed today charging 47 alleged members of an Imperial Valley, California-based, Sinaloa Cartel-linked fentanyl-and-methamphetamine distribution network with drug trafficking, firearms, and money laundering offenses.

In a coordinated takedown this morning, more than 400 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials arrested 36 defendants and executed 25 search warrants in Imperial County; San Diego; Fresno, California; Los Angeles; Phoenix; and Salem, Oregon. As of this afternoon, the search continues for 11 fugitives.

Including seizures today and throughout the long-term investigation, authorities have confiscated more than four kilograms of fentanyl, which amounts to about two million potentially fatal doses; more than 324 kilograms (over 714 pounds) of methamphetamine; significant quantities of cocaine and heroin; and 52 firearms, including handguns and rifles.

The investigation also resulted in the arrest of Alexander Grindley for alleged methamphetamine trafficking while employed as a U.S. Border Patrol agent and multiple spin-off investigations in this district and others.

Crimes charged in the indictments include drug trafficking, money laundering, and gun-related offenses. Court documents indicated the defendants were operating throughout the Imperial Valley — in Brawley, El Centro, Westmoreland, Imperial, Calexico, Niland, Holtville, Calipatria — and in Mexicali, Mexico.

“With this takedown, the Justice Department has dealt yet another blow to the Sinaloa Cartel and its associates,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “I am grateful to the more than 400 law enforcement officers whose work in this operation resulted in dozens of arrests, charges against 47 defendants, and the seizure of firearms, meth, cocaine, heroin, and two million potentially lethal doses of fentanyl. We will continue to be relentless in our fight to protect American communities from the cartels.”

“The Department of Homeland Security and our federal, state, and local partners are unrelenting in our work to keep deadly fentanyl off our streets and bring those who traffic in it to justice,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “The indictments unsealed today are the direct result of our multipronged and coordinated law enforcement approach — one that utilizes all of our government’s resources and capabilities. Together, we are preventing fentanyl and other deadly drugs from being produced, distributed, or consumed, and saving countless lives.” 

“This investigation tore apart a drug trafficking network responsible for supplying dealers in communities across the region,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath for the Southern District of California. “But there is still much work to be done. If you’re a parent and today’s price of fentanyl terrifies you, talk to your kids about the dangers of drug use. If you’re an addict and your dealer was arrested today, seek treatment. And if you’re a dealer but your supplier was arrested today, look out – we are coming for you next.”

“Today’s coordinated operation, involving, over 400 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, marks a decisive blow against an Imperial Valley-based, Sinaloa Cartel-linked distribution network and significantly disrupts the flow of dangerous drugs into our communities,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Chris Davis of Homeland Security Investigations, San Diego. “This operation is a testament to the power of law enforcement collaboration and our unwavering commitment to bringing these criminals to justice.”

“Today, the El Centro Border Patrol Sector teamed with allied law enforcement agencies to support both Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California in this operation,” said Chief Gregory Bovino of the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector. “Our successful collaboration should be a reminder to criminal organizations in the Imperial Valley and elsewhere that justice will be served.”

“This operation shows what can be accomplished when there is collaboration between federal and local law enforcement agencies,” said Imperial County District Attorney George Marquez. “The Imperial County District Attorney’s office will continue to work together with our partners to bring to justice those that harm or are a danger to our community.”

According to the indictments and search warrants, the defendants belonged to various trafficking organizations that were part of an extensive network supplying all of Imperial County and beyond with dangerous drugs.

According to court records, on June 30, 2021, agents seized two pounds of methamphetamine and a cache of ghost guns and ammunition, including: 15 lower receivers, three upper receivers, multiple barrels and stocks, 18 magazines, 40 Luger 9mm rounds, and approximately 400 rounds of .223 Red Army ammunition, which are made in Russia. None of the firearms or firearm parts had any identifying serial numbers or markings. They were all ghost guns. Wiretap intercepts showed that defendant Cory Gershen supplied other members of the organization with ghost guns in exchange for methamphetamine. The investigation also revealed the assault rifles (depicted below) were destined for the organization’s source of supply in Mexico. 

Multiple AR-style firearms, parts, pistols, magazines, unfinished firearm parts used to create ghost guns, and a cache of Russian made ammunition.

On June 30, 2021, agents seized additional ghost guns, ammunition, and methamphetamine from another member of the same drug trafficking organization. Specifically, agents seized two AR-style ghost guns and a Colt .380 semiautomatic handgun, and additional Russian rifle ammunition from defendant Guadalupe Molina-Flores, one of the alleged members of the trafficking organization. According to a search warrant, after seizing the firearms, agents searched Molina-Flores’ residence and found 309.4 grams (0.68 pounds) of methamphetamine. 

Two more AR-style rifles, a pistol, magazines, and Russian made ammunition. Notably, these were exchanged for drugs.

Fentanyl continues to be a prolific killer. Imperial County experienced 24 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2022, the most recent full year of data available from the California Department of Public Health. The annual mortality rate for 2022 was 13.57 deaths per 100,000 residents — an increase of 41% over 2021.

The investigation revealed that the price per fentanyl pill has plummeted. For example, in June 2021, targets of the investigation were obtaining fentanyl pills in Imperial Valley at approximately $1.65 to $1.75 per pill. By December 2021, the prices being discussed had dropped to approximately $1.25 per pill. By May, the same pills were being sold at only 45 cents per pill — less than one-third of the price three years earlier. The precipitous drop in price reflects the increased supply and availability of fentanyl being smuggled into the United States and the close ties between targets of this investigation and their Sinaloa Cartel supplier of fentanyl pills. 

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

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

Updated June 5, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 24-707