U.S. Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref Announces FBI Sweep Down on Gang Activity, Drug Trafficking, and Violent Crime in Yakima County
Yakama, WA – Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that a federal Grand Jury has returned numerous indictments charging multiple individuals with various federal crimes arising in the Yakima area, including on the Yakama Nation Indian Reservation.
Over the past several years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has dedicated increased resources to addressing violent crime in Yakima County, including on the Yakama Nation. In the past six months, the FBI’s office in Yakima has brought on a number of additional special agents dedicated to investigating violent crime. In addition, the FBI is leading a joint task force, which includes Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, the Washington State Department of Corrections, and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. The purpose of the FBI Task Force is to disrupt gang activity, weapons trafficking, narcotics distribution, and to eradicate violent crime in Eastern Washington.
Seven of the indictments announced today charge the following individuals with multiple violations of federal law:
• Marcelo Anthony Benson, age 25, of Wapato, Washington, an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation. In State prison on unrelated charges. Currently charged with felon in possession of a firearm.
• Dennis William Chapman, age 62, of Toppenish, Washington. Arrested on May 17, 2022, and charged with two counts of distribution of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
• Joseph Wade Clark, age 45, of Yakima, Washington. In custody at the Yakima County jail on unrelated charges. Charged with two counts of distribution of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
• Nicholas Medelez, age 33, of Yakima, Washington. Arrested on May 17, 2022, and charged with three counts of distributing methamphetamine.
• Sergio Hernan Mendoza, age 47, of Sunnyside, Washington. Arrested on May 17, 2022, and charged with two counts of distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
• Tiare Aqua Leilani Miller, age 34, of Toppenish, Washington. Arrested on May 17, 2022, and charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
• Raymond Holt, age 75, of Wapato, Washington. Arrested on May 18, 2022, and charged with abusive sexual contact of an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation.
Additional fugitives are currently being sought by the FBI Task Force. More information will be provided upon their arrest.
U.S. Attorney Waldref commended the FBI Task Force for its dedication to combating drug distribution and pursuing violent offenders in the Yakima area, including on the Yakama Nation. “The opioid epidemic devastating our region is closely linked with an increase in violent crime. The uptick in violence has hit Native American communities especially hard,” she explained. “Native Americans experience some of the highest rates of violence in our country. The FBI Task Force – which focuses its efforts to protect our community from drug trafficking, gang members, violent offenders, and felons who possess firearms – reflects the United States’ commitment to addressing the causes and symptoms of the increased violence in Native American communities and elsewhere.”
“These arrests demonstrate how critical it is for law enforcement to work together,” U.S. Attorney Waldref continued. “By combining the resources of federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement through focused investigation and prosecution, we are able to do more to make communities in Eastern Washington safe and strong. The indictments announced today send a clear message that our community will not tolerate drug trafficking and violence.”
“The public has been demanding a place to live and work where our citizens feel safe,” said Donald M. Voiret, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Seattle Field Office. “The actions taken today by the FBI and our law enforcement partners demonstrate that we hear you, and we are working to provide our communities with the protection you deserve.”
Yakima County Sherriff Robert Udell stated, “The latest round of FBI Task Force arrests is a fantastic example of the FBI’s commitment to public safety in Yakima County. The FBI and the Yakima County Sherriff’s Office enjoy a strong partnership, which is committed to removing violent criminals from our communities. I believe the FBI Task Force, coupled with local partners, is a significant step towards ensuring our citizens’ safety.”
“With violent crime on the rise across the country, law enforcement must come together to combat the root causes of this violence more so than ever,” said Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in the Pacific Northwest. “Today’s arrests demonstrate HSI’s commitment to our daily quest to keep the Pacific Northwest secure by pursuing those who blatantly disregard the health and safety of the community we live in.”
Lloyd Easterling, Chief Patrol Agent for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Spokane Sector, emphasized his agency’s commitment to keeping the communities of Eastern Washington safe: “The U.S. Border Patrol remains committed to working together with our partners to identify, arrest and remove violent offenders from our communities.”
As noted above, the cases announced today are being investigated by a Joint FBI Task Force, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, the Washington State Department of Corrections, and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. The cases are being prosecuted by Matthew Stone, Michael Murphy, and Tom Hanlon, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.