RIVERSIDE, California – The central figure in three conspiracies in which members and associates of a San Bernardino-based street gang deliberately got themselves arrested to smuggle narcotics and syringes hidden in their body cavities into San Bernardino County jails was sentenced today to 204 months in federal prison.
Carlos Antonio Aznaran, 29, of San Bernardino, was sentenced by United States District Judge Jesus G. Bernal.
Aznaran, the lead defendant charged in three separate indictments in April 2019, pleaded guilty in October 2022 to two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, five counts of international money laundering, one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, and one count of being a felon in possession of firearms. Aznaran has been in federal custody since his arrest in April 2019.
From at least July 2017 until April 2019, the Westside Verdugo street gang smuggled narcotics inside San Bernardino County’s jail system. Aznaran contacted drug suppliers to obtain and arrange for narcotics to be smuggled into the jails by people who were willing to be arrested and who hid the drugs inside their body cavities. The smugglers then distributed the drugs to other inmates inside the jails.
During at least four smuggling attempts, law enforcement intercepted approximately 121 grams of methamphetamine, 86 grams of heroin, and at least 10 syringes, according to court documents.
Aznaran also was the primary link between the Mexican source of supply for methamphetamine and heroin and the street level dealers in his neighborhood. He was responsible for routine multi-pound orders, paying the Mexico source of supply, and accepting the bulk shipments from Mexico. Using other co-conspirators, including his wife, Elisa Montes, 32, of Palm Desert, Aznaran the repackaged the methamphetamine into smaller quantities then distributed it to other drug dealers in the conspiracy in exchange for a portion of their profits. From October 2017 to January 2018, Aznaran obtained more than 10 kilograms of methamphetamine.
In his plea agreement, Aznaran admitted to conspiring to distribute at least one kilogram of heroin, and to possessing in January 2018 approximately 18.5 grams of heroin and nearly 111 grams of fentanyl. He further admitted to possessing three firearms in January 2018. Aznaran knew he was not permitted to possess firearms because of his 2014 felony convictions, including a conviction in Riverside County Superior Court for assault with a deadly weapon.
“For some inmates, prison is one of the few places they are separated from the destructive influences in their lives, including drugs,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “[Aznaran’s] role in procuring smugglers and introducing drugs into the prison system threatened that opportunity for these inmates, all for his own personal benefit. [His] conduct showed a willingness to prey on a vulnerable group of people, many of whom were undoubtedly taking advantage of their custody time to regain sobriety.”
Federal prosecutors have secured convictions against 35 defendants in these cases, with some defendants receiving sentences of up to 10 years in federal prison. Montes pleaded guilty in November 2019 to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Judge Bernal in March 2020 sentenced her to two years in federal prison.
The FBI, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and the San Bernardino Police Department investigated this matter. The Fontana Police Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS Criminal Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; and the San Bernardino County Probation and Parole Departments provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorney Scott M. Lara of the Violent and Organized Crime Section prosecuted these cases.