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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Arizona

Thursday, February 8, 2018

18 Members of Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization Sentenced for Smuggling Marijuana Through the Tohono O’odham Reservation

     PHOENIX – Yesterday, Arturo Tellez-Berrelleza, 32, a citizen of Mexico, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James A. Soto to 21 months’ imprisonment.  Tellez-Berrelleza, who previously pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking offense, is the final defendant to be sentenced in a multi-agency investigation into a marijuana smuggling network.

     “Our office is committed to prosecuting transnational criminal organizations that seek to smuggle drugs through Arizona,” stated First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange.  “Homeland Security Investigations and the United States Border Patrol deserve particular commendation for their painstaking efforts to apprehend the smugglers who were brought to justice during this investigation.”

     “Members of this drug trafficking organization will no longer plague the southern border with their illicit criminal activity and flood our community with large quantities of drugs,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Phoenix. “HSI, along with our law enforcement partners, will continue to work tirelessly to target and dismantle organizations who seek to operate in the dessert undetected.” 

     In October 2015, federal law enforcement officials initiated an investigation into the smuggling activities of a Mexican drug trafficking organization (“DTO”) operating on the Tohono O’odham Nation.  This DTO placed heavy reliance on so-called “scouts,” who are individuals who remain on high ground for extended periods of time in order to guide marijuana backpacking groups past law enforcement, and “resuppliers,” who are responsible for providing scouts with food, water, binoculars, cellphones, camping equipment, cold and hot weather clothing, and communications equipment.  During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officials seized approximately 5,478 kilograms of marijuana and successfully prosecuted at least 18 members of the DTO, who received sentences ranging up to 37 months’ imprisonment.  On one occasion, a DTO member attempted to hide near a cliff with a 15- to 20-foot drop, then assaulted a law enforcement agent who was attempting to arrest him by striking the agent, grabbing the agent’s radio, and damaging the radio so it could not be used to call for backup.  During the course of the struggle, the agent was pushed close to the edge of the cliff.            

     The investigation in this case was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations under the NATIVE Task Force and the U.S. Border Patrol Casa Grande Station.  These prosecutions were handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Rossi and Susanna Martinez, District of Arizona, Tucson.


CASE NUMBERS:     4:17-CR-00480-JAS-BPV;4:17-CR-00291-RCC-LAB;4:17-CR-00480-  JAS-BPV; 4:17-CR-00557-JAS-EJM;4:17-CR-00509-JGZ-BPV;4:17-CR-00508-RCC-BPV

RELEASE NUMBER:    2018-011_ Tellez-Berrelleza et al.


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Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 
2018-011_ Tellez-Berrelleza et al. / 4:17-CR-00480-JAS-BPV
Updated February 8, 2018