Citizen of Mexico Pleads Guilty to Heroin Trafficking and Immigration Offenses
John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that on February 2, ONEL ARANA-GERVACIO, also known as “Arana Ricardo Leon Cepeda,” 44, a citizen of Mexico last residing in Houston, Texas, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael P. Shea in Hartford to heroin trafficking and immigration offenses.
According to court documents and statements made in court, on October 21, 2016, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama conducted a motor vehicle stop of a car hauler that was carrying a 2012 Chevrolet Malibu. A search of the Malibu, which was registered to ARANA, revealed that it contained a hidden compartment (“trap”), which is commonly used to conceal and transport illegal contraband, including narcotics, firearms and currency. Law enforcement officials obtained court authorization to install tracking devices on the vehicle and, between October 2016 and January 2017, HSI agents observed it at various locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
On January 17, 2017, agents located the vehicle at 1091 Maple Avenue in Hartford. On January 20, surveillance officers observed activity on another vehicle located at the Maple Avenue residence consistent with manipulating a mechanical hidden compartment. Officers then observed ARANA placing two duffel bags into that second vehicle and then driving off. At approximately 8:30 p.m., a Hartford Police cruiser pulled the car over. The vehicle also contained a hidden trap, but a search revealed no contraband.
A subsequent search of 1091 Maple Avenue revealed more than six kilograms of heroin, approximately 500 grams of cocaine and a “finger press,” which is used to process bulk quantities of heroin into 10-gram-bags known as “fingers.” Agents also seized drug distribution materials, including sifters, grinders, scales, vacuum sealers and kilo wrappers, which were coated in heroin residue and field-tested positive for the presence of fentanyl.
Agents then searched the Malibu, which was located in the garage of 1091 Maple Avenue, and recovered approximately $260,000 in cash from inside the trap.
Laboratory testing of the seized heroin revealed that some of it contained fentanyl.
The investigation revealed that in October 2013, a U.S. Border Patrol agent encountered ARANA near Hidalgo, Texas, and determined that ARANA had unlawfully entered the U.S. from Mexico. He was removed to Mexico on November 2, 2013.
ARANA pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, one kilogram or more of heroin, an offense that carries a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a maximum term of imprisonment of life. He also pleaded guilty to one count of illegal reentry, an offense that carries a maximum term of imprisonment of two years. Judge Shea scheduled sentencing for May 1, 2018.
ARANA has been detained since his arrest on January 20, 2017.
This matter is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Hartford Police Department and the Connecticut State Police, with the assistance of the Baldwin County (Ala.) Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Gustafson and David T. Huang.