Grand Jury Charges 19 Defendants in Alleged Conspiracy to Traffic Heroin via Telephone Call Centers and Launder $2 Million in Proceeds
SANTA ANA, California – Law enforcement officials today arrested 12 defendants charged in a federal grand jury indictment with conspiring to distribute at least $2 million worth of heroin by operating two Orange County-based call centers that took telephone orders for deliveries of the drug.
The 13-count indictment returned on May 26 and unsealed today charges a total of 19 defendants with narcotics- and money laundering-related offenses. The 12 defendants who were arrested by special agents with the FBI via “Operation Horse Caller” are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana. The seven remaining defendants are fugitives.
According to the indictment, from March 2017 to April 2021, Julio Cesar Martinez, a.k.a. “Primo,” 43, of Riverside, and his brother, Victor Martinez, a.k.a. “Hector,” 44, of Hemet, owned and operated a heroin distribution organization in Orange County, obtaining the drug from suppliers in Mexico and the United States. Heroin was transported to the organization by couriers who concealed the drug, sometimes in their body cavities, to Orange County.
Maricela Guerrero, a.k.a. “Carla,” 53, of Santa Ana, and Marla Portillo Cordova, a.k.a. “Yvette,” 34, also of Santa Ana, allegedly assisted in the daily operations of the distribution organization and, on an almost daily basis, accepted telephone orders for heroin. These four defendants allegedly directed other conspirators to deliver the heroin to buyers and collect payment in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.
The organization allegedly distributed $2 million worth of heroin. To conceal the source of the income the organization generated, from September 2013 to May 2019, Julio Cesar Martinez and Victor Martinez allegedly caused the deposit of the heroin sales proceeds into bank accounts held by Cordova and other individuals. Cordova and others, at times, allegedly structured the deposits into the bank accounts to evade federal reporting requirements by depositing the money at different banks and by breaking the deposits up into amounts $10,000 and under.
Victor Martinez allegedly directed Cordova and others to further conceal the heroin proceeds by transferring the money between various bank accounts held by family members. He also directed them to transfer heroin sales proceeds into an escrow account that was used to purchase property in Hemet for his benefit, according to the indictment.
These four defendants, along with others, are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Victor Martinez also is charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, and, along with Cordova, is charged with four counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity.
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 charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and distribution of heroin each carry a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The charges of money laundering conspiracy and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity carry statutory maximum sentences of 20 years and 10 years in federal prison, respectively.
The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation investigated this matter. The Orange County Sheriff's Department, the Newport Beach Police Department, the Costa Mesa Police Department, the Huntington Beach Police Department, the Oxnard Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and March Air Reserve Base provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph T. McNally and Kevin J. Butler of the Violent and Organized Crime Section are prosecuting this case. Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan S. Galatzan of the Asset Forfeiture Section is handling the forfeiture portion of the case.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.