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Press Release

Nineteen Defendants Charged in Federal Investigation That Disrupted Mexico-To-Chicago Narcotics Pipeline; 190 Kilograms of Heroin Seized

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois

CHICAGO — Federal authorities have seized more than 190 kilograms of heroin as part of an investigation that disrupted a Mexico-to-Chicago narcotics pipeline and resulted in drug charges against 19 defendants.


The investigation, dubbed “Operation Over the Top,” spanned more than a year and included a seizure last month of 80 kilograms of heroin from a residence in Hanover Park. As part of the investigation, authorities shut down a heroin stash house in Bensenville and removed an additional 85 kilograms of heroin and cocaine from warehouses in St. Charles and Sugar Grove, and from a vacant lot on the West Side of Chicago. Law enforcement uncovered the alleged criminal activity through the use of wiretapped cellular phones, undercover narcotics purchases and extensive surveillance. The probe was led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and conducted under the umbrella of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).


The investigation resulted in drug charges against 19 defendants in federal court in Chicago. Several of the defendants were arrested within the past two weeks, including one this past weekend. Others were charged and arrested earlier in the investigation, including five defendants who recently pleaded guilty to federal drug charges.


The charges were announced by Joel R. Levin, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Dennis A. Wichern, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Division of the DEA; and James M. Gibbons, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. Substantial assistance was provided by the San Antonio, Texas, office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


“This investigation is an example of the extraordinary determination and cooperation among our law enforcement partners,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Levin. “Our office remains committed to halting the stream of heroin and other dangerous narcotics into our communities.”


“Too many lives are lost to heroin and too many families forever scarred,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Wichern. “I'm proud of the work done by these agents, officers and prosecutors who have worked tirelessly to achieve these results, and I’m confident that with our continued partnership, we will have increasing success.”


“These charges and seizures are an example of how successful partnerships among law enforcement agencies can be in removing drug traffickers from our community,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Gibbons. “Our agents will continue to be relentless in their pursuit to target criminal enterprises that threaten public safety.”


The charges describe various narcotics-distribution organizations operating in the Chicago area. Last month, JULIO CESAR FLORES SAENZ, 29, of Hanover Park, was arrested with approximately 80 kilograms of heroin hidden in his residence and a vehicle compartment. In October 2016, Flores Saenz distributed four kilograms of heroin to RAMON GARCIA, 30, of Riverside, Calif., and two kilograms of heroin to VICTOR MANUEL VAZQUEZ-MORALES, 33, of Philadelphia, Penn., according to criminal complaints and affidavits filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In December 2016, NOEL MIRANDA, 36, of Chicago, sold a kilogram of heroin to a buyer outside the Ford City Mall in Chicago, and a few weeks later attempted to obtain an additional seven-and-a-half kilograms of heroin, according to the charges. The deals were allegedly set up by Noel Miranda’s cousin, LUIS MIRANDA, 30, of Chicago, who was arrested last month with a kilogram of heroin in his possession, the complaints state. Flores Saenz, Noel Miranda and Luis Miranda are each charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance.


JUAN CONTRERAS, 35, of Aurora, and JESUS ALBERTO MARTINEZ-REYES, 39, of Schiller Park, allegedly led a separate faction of narcotics dealers who unloaded heroin at warehouses in Naperville, Sugar Grove and St. Charles. The heroin had been shipped to Chicago from Mexico in secret compartments of semi-tractor trailers. Juan Conteras’ brother, DAVID CONTRERAS, 39, of Aurora, and Juan Contreras’ nephew, EDGAR RODRIGUEZ CONTRERAS, 32, of Aurora, along with Martinez-Reyes and HEDILBERTO VEGA-ROCHA, 47, of Schiller Park, pleaded guilty earlier this year to their roles in the distribution conspiracy. In written plea agreements, David Contreras, Martinez-Reyes, Edgar Contreras and Vega-Rocha admitted that they conspired with Juan Contreras and each other to distribute heroin that had been shipped from Mexico. After the heroin was unloaded, the secret compartments were stuffed with cash proceeds from the drug sales, and the trucks would return to Mexico, according to the plea agreements. David Contreras, Martinez-Reyes, Edgar Contreras and Vega-Rocha are awaiting sentencing. Juan Contreras is charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance. His case is set for trial on Oct. 16, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve.


The charges also identify a Bensenville man who ran a stash house where heroin and cash from drug sales were stored. JESUS SALGADO, 24, ran the Bensenville stash house and sold narcotics in the Chicago area, according to the complaints and an indictment returned in federal court in Chicago. Jesus Salgado’s drug-dealing operation was overseen by his father, LORENZO SALGADO, 54, who resides in Mexico but communicated with his son via phone, according to the charges. U.S. law enforcement last year obtained court authorization to surreptitiously record conversations between the father and son, during which the pair discussed selling narcotics, according to the complaints.


The charges describe instances in which Jesus Salgado and his girlfriend, RUBY JOY BUENAVENTURA, 26, of Chicago, delivered drugs to customers in the Chicago area after having the deal arranged remotely from Mexico by Jesus Salgado’s father. One of the deals occurred in the parking lot of a Bensenville strip mall in May 2016 when Jesus Salgado delivered two kilograms of heroin to SERGIO AREVALO-GOMEZ, 22, of Chicago. Arevalo-Gomez pleaded guilty earlier this year to distribution of a controlled substance. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee on May 2, 2017.


An indictment also identifies JOSE LUIS RIVERA JR., 39, of Lawton, Okla., as an alleged courier who traveled to New Jersey, Arizona & Mexico on behalf of the Salgado family. Jesus Salgado, Lorenzo Salgado and Rivera Jr. are each charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance. Lorenzo Salgado is considered a fugitive, while Jesus Salgado and Rivera Jr. are in federal custody and scheduled to appear for a status hearing on May 3, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Robert Blakey.


Also charged with various narcotics offenses are ALEXANDER LAGUNAS, 26, of Midlothian; SYLVIA JIMENEZ-CELEDON, 37, of Eagle Pass, Texas; WILLIE G. POWELL JR., 47, of Sandstone, Minn.; and MONIQUE FORTNEY, 37, of Dearborn Heights, Mich.


The investigation was conducted under the umbrella of the OCDETF program, a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of OCDETF is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations.


The public is reminded that complaints and indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kelly Greening, Misty Wright and John Cooke.

Updated April 11, 2017

Drug Trafficking