Federal Drug Task Force Targets Southern California Ring that Distributed Fentanyl and Other Dangerous Narcotics Across U.S.
LOS ANGELES – Members of the Los Angeles Strike Force this morning arrested eight defendants named in a federal grand jury indictment that alleges a drug trafficking organization operating in Los Angeles and Riverside counties distributed large quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and other narcotics across the United States.
The defendants arrested today – and nine others who are still being sought by authorities – are charged in a 20-count indictment that outlines an 18-month investigation that led to multiple seizures of narcotics, firearms and approximately $1.5 million in drug proceeds.
The indictment alleges that the drug ring was headed by Rigoberto Sanchez Martinez, 36, of Perris, who obtained wholesale quantities of narcotics, oversaw their storage, and coordinated distribution of the drugs to locations that included the states of Washington and New York. Martinez was one of the eight defendants arrested this morning.
The first major seizure in the investigation, according to the indictment, was on May 25, 2018, when authorities recovered approximately 54 kilograms of methamphetamine, nearly a kilogram of cocaine, and more than 25 kilograms of marijuana from a “stash house” near Whittier High School that was maintained by defendants Rogelio Barajas, 39, who is a fugitive, and Irene Equigua, 40, who was arrested this morning. Some of the narcotics seized by investigators were stored in coolers that had been buried in the backyard of the residence.
On the same day law enforcement seized the narcotics in Whittier, Martinez called the operator of another stash house and instructed him to take narcotics and drug proceeds and “wrap them and cover them with items such as Vicks VapoRub, coffee, pepper, and powdered soap, dig a deep hole, and bury the drugs in the ground,” the indictment alleges.
During the following year, investigators made several other seizures, including just over $240,000 in cash and numerous firearms seized from a drug courier returning from a trip to Washington; $1,041,970 in cash recovered from a residence in Long Beach; and $118,800 in cash seized from a drug courier who had travelled from New York with the intent to purchase five kilograms of cocaine from Martinez, the indictment states.
Authorities made additional seizures of narcotics that the indictment directly links to Martinez. On May 28, 2019, authorities seized 3.1 kilograms of methamphetamine, nearly 21 kilograms of cocaine, nearly 10 kilograms of fentanyl, and nearly 9 kilograms of heroin from a storage facility in Fontana, the indictment states. And, on September 13, 2019, at another stash house that Martinez had rented in Whitter, law enforcement seized more than 13 kilograms of methamphetamine and approximately $31,000 in cash.
The eight defendants arrested today are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The 17 defendants named in the indictment are charged in various counts in the indictment. Each defendant is charged in court one, which alleges a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. That narcotics conspiracy charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and potential sentence of life without parole.
This case is being investigated by the Los Angeles Strike Force, which was formed in 2014 to target Mexican drug cartels that use the Los Angeles metropolitan region as a primary hub for the distribution of narcotics across the United States. The goals of the Strike Force are to target high-level narcotics traffickers, disrupt and dismantle the cartels’ narcotics trafficking and related money laundering activities, and arrest and prosecute major drug traffickers.
A number of agencies provided substantial assistance to the Strike Force, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, and IRS Criminal Investigation. Local law enforcement agencies participating in the investigation included the Pasadena Police Department, the Whittier Police Department, the Torrance Police Department, the Fontana Police Department, the South Gate Police Department, the San Bernardino Police Department, the Downey Police Department, the Ontario Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Seal Beach Police Department, the Irvine Police Department, the Bakersfield Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol, the New York Police Department, the Spokane (Washington) Police Department, and the Oregon State Police.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Lindsay M. Bailey and Shawn Nelson of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section, which is headed by AUSA Nelson.