Four More Members of Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization Plead Guilty to Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Charges
DTO Imported Large Quantities of Heroin, Methamphetamine and Cocaine from Mexico and Distributed the Drugs in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois
ALBUQUERQUE – Four more of the 22 defendants charged with federal drug trafficking and international money laundering charges in a superseding indictment filed in Aug. 2017, entered guilty pleas in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., this week
Twenty-three defendants were charged on April 19, 2017, in a 44-count indictment, as the result of a 16-month DEA-led federal investigation targeting a Mexican drug trafficking organization (DTO) responsible for importing large quantities of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine from Mexico, and distributing the drugs in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois. During the investigation, law enforcement authorities seized approximately 30 kilograms of heroin, 64 kilograms of methamphetamine, 17 kilograms of cocaine, 20 kilograms of marijuana, 24 firearms, $102,000 in currency, and three vehicles. The investigation concluded in April 2017, with a multi-agency law enforcement operation that included the execution of arrest warrants in New Mexico and Texas, and six search warrants in El Paso, Tex., Sunland Park, N.M., Belen, N.M., and Albuquerque, N.M.
A superseding indictment was filed on Aug. 16, 2017, that included all of the charges from the indictment but removed one defendant. The superseding indictment charged the 22 defendants with participating in a conspiracy to distribute heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine between April 2016 and April 2017. It also charged nine of the defendants with participating in an international money laundering conspiracy during that same period in time. The superseding indictment also charged certain defendants with engaging in a series of substantive drug trafficking and money laundering offenses, and using communication devices (telephones) to facilitate their criminal activities, and one defendant with a firearms offense.
The superseding indictment included 77 overt acts allegedly committed by the defendants in furtherance of the drug trafficking conspiracy, which described the expansive sweep of the DTO’s drug distribution operation and the significant quantities of drugs involved. For example, the overt acts set forth in the superseding indictment alleged that the DTO’s drug trafficking and money laundering activities extended to Kentucky, where law enforcement officers seized $15,300 in drug proceeds from a courier who was transporting the money to New Mexico in April 2016; to Oklahoma, where law enforcement officers seized 4.44 kilograms of methamphetamine from a courier in June 2016; and New Mexico, where law enforcement officers seized six kilograms of heroin and 3.56 kilograms of methamphetamine from a courier at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Oct. 2016.
The superseding indictment also included forfeiture allegations, which sought forfeiture to the United States of the proceeds of the DTO’s drug trafficking and money-laundering activities, including $56,556 seized by the DEA during the investigation.
The following four defendants entered guilty pleas this week:
- Omar Fernandez, 22, of Albuquerque, N.M., pled guilty on July 16, 2018, to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and using a communication facility in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Fernandez admitted that between June 2016 and Nov. 2016, he conspired with others to distribute drugs in New Mexico and elswhere by receiving drugs that had been transported from El Paso, Texas, and southern New Mexico to Albuquerque. Fernandez acknowledged responsibility for trafficking approximately 11.64 kilograms of methamphetamine and 5.38 kilograms of heroin while he was involved in the conspiracy. At sentencing, Fernandez faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
- Joshua Jande Carmona, 24, of El Paso, Texas, pled guilty on July 16, 2018, to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, conspiracy to commit international money laundering, international money laundering, and possession of methamphetamine and heroin with intent to distribute. Carmona admitted in April 2017, he obtained drugs brought into the United States in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and transported and arranged delivery of the drugs to Albuquerque and other locations. Carmona acknowledged responsibility for attempting to traffick at least 21.99 kilograms of methamphetamine, six kilograms of heroin and $15,300 in drug proceeds from April 2016 through Oct. 2016. Carmona’s plea agreement recommends that he be sentenced to a term of imprisonment within the range of 180 and 240 months followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court.
- Rosa M. De Santiago, 44, of Sunland Park, N.M., pled guilty on July 16, 2018, to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, conspiracy to commit international money laundering, and possession of methamphetamine and heroin with intent to distribute. De Santiago entered her guilty plea without the benefit of a plea agreement. At sentencing, De Santiago faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of ten years and a maximum of life in federal prison.
- Vanessa Reyes, 27, of El Paso, Texas, pled guilty on July 16, 2018, to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, conspiracy to commit international money laundering, international money laundering, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and using a communication facility in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Reyes admitted that in April 2017, she worked with others to transport and distribute drugs in New Mexico and other locations. Reyes admitted that in Oct. 2017, she transported approximately 4.98 kilograms of methamphetamine from El Paso, Texas, to Albuquerque, and $32,000 in drug proceeds from Albuquerque to El Paso, Texas. At sentencing, Reyes faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
To date, 13 of the 22 defendants have entered guilty pleas and are awaiting sentencing. Six defendants have entered pleas of not guilty and are pending trial. Three defendants have yet to be arrested and are considered fugitives. Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are only accusations. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Las Cruces and Albuquerque offices of the DEA conducted the investigation with assistance from IRS Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Border Patrol, New Mexico State Police and Hatch Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Selesia L. Winston and Sarah M. Davenport of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office are prosecuting the cases as part of the OCDETF Program and the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative.
The OCDETF Program is a nationwide Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
The HOPE Initiative was launched in January 2015 by the UNM Health Sciences Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in response to the national opioid epidemic, which has had a disproportionately devastating impact on New Mexico. Opioid addiction has taken a toll on public safety, public health and the economic viability of our communities. Working in partnership with the DEA, the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, Healing Addiction in our Community (HAC), the Albuquerque Public Schools and other community stakeholders, HOPE’s principal goals are to protect our communities from the dangers associated with heroin and opioid painkillers and reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in New Mexico. The HOPE Initiative is comprised of five components: (1) prevention and education; (2) treatment; (3) law enforcement; (4) reentry; and (5) strategic planning. HOPE’s law enforcement component is led by the Organized Crime Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA in conjunction with their federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners. Targeting members of major heroin and opioid trafficking organizations for investigation and prosecution is a priority of the HOPE Initiative.