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Press Release

Seven Defendants Charged In East Bay-Centered Fentanyl Distribution Case

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Drug Trafficking Organization Allegedly Used Residences in Oakland and San Leandro to Store Fentanyl for Distribution Resulting in Largest Ever Federal Seizure in the District

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged six East Bay residents and one Oregon resident with a drug trafficking charges related to the distribution of fentanyl in the Bay Area, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. The arrest of the members of the drug trafficking organization was paired with the largest ever seizure of fentanyl in the Northern District of California. 

The charges are set out in two simultaneously filed complaints. The complaints describe how law enforcement investigators conducted a wiretap investigation to develop evidence regarding the distribution of fentanyl by an organization referred to in the complaint as the Castro DTO. Specifically, the first complaint alleges Javier Castro Banegas-Medina, a/k/a Gio, 39, conspired with Elmer Rosales-Montes, 28, and Jose Ivan Cruz-Caceres, 31, to distribute fentanyl to numerous re-distributors who, in turn, disseminated the drugs to others. The re-distributors charged are Jihad Jad Tawasha, 34, William Joseph Laughren, 25, and Heather Borges, 33. The second complaint alleges that Keny Alduvi Romero-Lopez, 23, lived with Castro and possessed with intent to distribute over one-half kilogram of fentanyl. The defendants reside in Oakland, San Leandro, Alameda, and Tracy, Calif., as well as in Oregon.

According to documents filed in these cases, the fentanyl distributed by the Castro DTO was kept in stash houses in Oakland and San Leandro, and its distribution chain flowed throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Concord, and Oakland, and beyond to re-distributors outside of the Northern District of California.

Law enforcement executed arrest warrants at the Castro DTO stash houses on May 25, 2021, where they found approximately 19 kilograms of fentanyl, much of it hidden in fence posts surrounding one of the residences. Law enforcement also discovered dyes likely used to color the fentanyl prior to sale, and approximately $36,000 in bulk currency. Fentanyl, a highly potent drug, is often referred to by the color emitted when the drug is burnt. In this case, the complaint alleges the Castro DTO sold blue, pink, purple, green, and yellow varieties of fentanyl. 

The complaints and documents filed in the cases describe numerous transactions that occurred in the Spring of 2021. For example, the complaints describe how after intercepting wire communications in which Castro stated that “guys” would transport drugs ordered by a re-distributor, investigators observed Rosales-Montes or Cruz-Caceres, or both, leave one of Castro’s residences. On one such occasion, investigators intercepted approximately eight ounces of fentanyl being transported from Rosales-Montes and Cruz-Caceres to a re-distributor. Similarly, the complaint describes numerous transactions in which other people, including Laughren, distributed drugs or received drugs for further distribution. According to the complaints, it is estimated the DTO has filled over 100 orders for suspected fentanyl between approximately April 21, 2021 and May 19, 2021. Searches conducted in connection with the arrests of the defendants has resulted in the seizure of approximately 19 kilograms of fentanyl, including bricks concealed within the fence posts of one property. This seizure represents the largest federal seizure of fentanyl ever in the Northern District of California. In court filings requesting detention pending trial, the United States also describes how four of the defendants were recorded discussing their plans to flee to Honduras if released. 

In sum, the defendants are charged with the following crimes and face the following maximum statutory penalties:

Castro, Rosales-Montes, and Cruz-Caceres are charged with conspiracy to distribute more than 40 grams of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 846, 841(b)(1)(B). If convicted, the defendants face a maximum prison term of 40 years, with a mandatory minimum of 5 years.

Laughren is charged with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) &(b)(1)(C). If convicted, Laughren faces a maximum prison term of 20 years.

Tawasha, Romero-Lopez, and Borges are charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 40 grams of fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(B). If convicted, Tawasha, Romero-Lopez, and Borges each face a maximum prison term of 40 years, with a mandatory minimum of 5 years.

The court also may order additional terms of supervised release, fines, forfeitures, and restitution, however, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553. 

The complaints contain allegations only and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Castro, Rosales-Montes, Cruz-Caceres, Romero-Lopez, and Laughren were arrested May 25, 2021, and made their initial appearances on May 26, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kandis A. Westmore. Magistrate Judge Westmore, scheduled detention hearings on June 2, June 3, and June 4, 2021. The United States has moved for detention of the defendants pending trial. Borges was arrested in Oregon and made her initial appearance on June 1, 2021.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Noah Stern, Special Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Kleinman, and the Oakland Branch Office. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI (through its Safe Streets Violent Gang Taskforce), the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Concord Police Department with assistance from the Contra Costa County Safe Streets Task Force, the United States Marshal Service, the Walnut Creek Police Department, the Richmond Police Department, the Contra Costa County Probation Department, the Office of the Contra Costa County District Attorney, California Highway Patrol, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, and the Pleasant Hill Police Department. 

This investigation and prosecution is part of OCDETF, which identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

Updated July 28, 2022