Los Angeles Strike Force Indictment Targets Traffickers that Allegedly Shipped Hundreds of Pounds of Narcotics to U.S.
LOS ANGELES – The first major narcotics trafficking indictment resulting from an investigation by the Los Angeles Strike Force was unsealed today as authorities arrested seven defendants charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons offenses.
The indictment charges a total of 22 defendants who allegedly were members of a drug trafficking organization linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. The charged defendants allegedly were responsible for the importation of hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin from Mexico into the United States. The narcotics were distributed throughout the country via a network of cartel associates, and the proceeds from the domestic narcotics sales were then funneled back to Mexico, according to the indictment.
In addition to the seven defendants arrested this morning, one of the defendants was already in a California prison on unrelated charges. The remaining 14 defendants, including four whose true names are not yet known, are fugitives, most of whom are believed to be in Mexico.
During the two-year wiretap investigation, members of the Strike Force seized narcotics with an approximate street value in Los Angeles of more than $6 million, including approximately 290 pounds of methamphetamine, 280 pounds of cocaine, 30 pounds of heroin and 81 pounds of marijuana. During the investigation, authorities also seized 33 firearms, three vehicles with hidden compartments and $1.3 million in cash.
The indictment specifically details 14 significant seizures, one of which involved more than 15 kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as over 28 firearms. Another seizure involved more than 70 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin as well as two vacuum-sealed bundles of cash.
The Los Angeles Strike Force investigation was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Marshals Service and the Azusa Police Department. These Strike Force members uncovered a sophisticated international drug trafficking network that regularly transported narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border and at times stored drugs in “stash houses” across the San Gabriel Valley. The narcotics then were distributed throughout the United States.
“The Strike Force has become a leader in using innovative investigative techniques to target Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “We are committed to stemming the illegal flow of narcotics into our country, and law enforcement initiatives like the Strike Force will continue to have a significant impact in protecting Americans from dangerous drugs and the violence that often accompanies illegal drug trafficking.”
“The stream of narcotics coming into the United States fuels violence in local neighborhoods and contributes to the current drug epidemic in the United States,” said Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Today’s multi-agency operation is the result of a lengthy investigation targeting cartel members for their roles in an international drug importation network that enriched Mexico-based cartel members while American communities were being adversely affected. The FBI will continue to address this crime problem by working with our law enforcement partners, and by engaging with leaders of communities affected by narcotics trafficking.”
“The indictment and today’s arrests demonstrate the Strike Force’s ability to reach both sides of the border, impacting the Sinaloa Cartel by disrupting their drug supply chain and neutralizing key players in the organization,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge David J. Downing. “We’ve sent a message to the cartels – they won’t be allowed to operate freely in Los Angeles or conduct business as usual.”
The 19-count indictment specifically charges the defendants with being members of a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The indictment contains 14 counts alleging possession with the intent to distribute narcotics. One defendant also is charged with illegally possessing seven handguns while engaged in drug trafficking activities.
The seven defendants arrested today are:
Julian Rocha, also known as “JRoc,” 33, of Azusa, who is charged with being a Los Angeles-based purchaser of Mexican narcotics;
Froilan Villarreal, also known as aka “DeL MoNtE,” of Azusa, who allegedly illegally possessed seven firearms when authorities seized large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine from his El Monte residence;
Oscar Arredondo, 53, of Bakersfield, an alleged drug transporter who was arrested in the Eastern District of California;
Maria Ernestina Limon Elenes, 64, of Azusa, an alleged facilitator and the mother of lead defendant/fugitive Jeuri Limon Elenes;
Antonio Orozco, also known as “El Sr.,” 45, of Long Beach, who allegedly transported narcotics across the international border;
Martin Ruiz Saldana, of Santa Ana, who allegedly received narcotics from Villarreal; and
Audrey Rose Urrea, of Chula Vista, who allegedly attempted to transport narcotics across the international border and who was arrested this morning in the Southern District of California.
The five defendants arrested today in the Central District of California are being arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
One additional defendant – Fernando Madueno Sanchez – was already in state prison. Prosecutors will seek to transfer him to federal custody to face the charges in the indictment unsealed today.
The Los Angeles Strike Force was formed in 2014 to target Mexican drug cartels that utilize 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 the cartels’ leaders and operatives.
The lead defendant in the indictment – Jeuri Limon Elenes (also known as “Prude,” “Rzr,” “Fox,” and “Royal Nuevo”) – is charged with acquiring narcotics in Mexico and arranging for the transportation of the drugs into the United States. Limon is a fugitive at this time.
In addition to the narcotics and weapons offenses, the indictment includes a charge of conspiracy to launder money that alleges the drug trafficking organization used the United States banking system to launder drug proceeds by making multiple cash deposits into purportedly legitimate accounts to disguise the origin of thousands of dollars of illicit funds.
“When drug traffickers amass large quantities of cash from narcotics sales, they often attempt to legitimize these ill-gotten profits through the use of banks and financial institutions,” said R. Damon Rowe, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation. “This joint investigation demonstrates our efforts to ensure that the banking industry will not be abused by large-scale narcotics traffickers, but will be operated in a fair and honest manner to promote the public interest.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
If they are convicted in this case, all of the defendants would be subject to potential sentences of life without parole in federal prison.