Fourth Member of New Mexico-Based Marijuana Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty
ALBUQUERQUE – Antonio Ruelas, 33, of Algodones, N.M., pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to a felony information charging him with participating in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy. Ruelas entered the guilty plea under a plea agreement recommending a sentence not to exceed 36 months of imprisonment.
Ruelas is one of ten defendants charged as the result of a two-year investigation by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation into a drug trafficking organization led by Enrique Cavazos, 31, of Tijeras, N.M., that distributed high-grade marijuana throughout New Mexico and across the country. The investigation revealed that the Cavazos drug trafficking organization cultivated and purchased high-grade marijuana in California, distributed the marijuana throughout the country, and laundered its drug proceeds through a number of businesses and bank accounts in New Mexico.
Ruelas is the fourth defendant to enter a guilty plea. Ringleader Enrique Cavazos previously pled guilty on May 24, 2017, to marijuana trafficking and money laundering charges under a plea agreement that recommends a sentence within the range of 48 to 120 months of imprisonment. His wife, Lindsey A. Cavazos, 32, also pled guilty on May 24, 2017, to a money laundering charge under a plea agreement that recommends a sentence of a five-year term of probation. The Cavazos’ plea agreements also require the couple to forfeit the proceeds of their drug trafficking and money laundering activities, including real estate, vehicles, cash, weapons, and jewelry, which are valued at more than $1,883,500. A fourth defendant, Daniel Nieto, 30, of Carlsbad, N.M., pled guilty on May 25, 2017, to possessing hashish oil with intent to distribute, under a plea agreement.
These four defendants and four others (Felix Cavazos, 58, of Albuquerque, Joaquin Alaniz, 40, of Carlsbad, N.M., Eliberto Nava, 36, of Madera, Calif., Robert Moreno, 37, of Calif.) were charged in Nov. 2015, with marijuana trafficking and money laundering offenses in an indictment that alleging that they participated in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy that existed from at least Jan. 2008 through Nov. 2015, and operated in the District of New Mexico and elsewhere. According to court filings, Enrique Cavazos operated a marijuana trafficking business by directing co-conspirators to purchase large quantities of marijuana in California and distribute the marijuana in New Mexico and other destinations across the country. Lindsey Cavazos was responsible for keeping the books on businesses she and her husband established with proceeds from their marijuana trafficking activities and for the purpose of laundering their drug proceeds. The couple engaged in a money laundering conspiracy and used bank accounts in the names of several of their businesses, including a restaurant and a car dealership, to launder their drug proceeds.
The indictment was superseded in Aug. 2016, to add money laundering charges against three new defendants: Steven Becerra, 62, the owner of the Becerra Group Tax and Accounting Firm in Albuquerque, who previously was employed by the IRS for 18 years; Deborah Gutierrez, 55, who operated Automated Financial Technologies, which is no longer in business; and Glen F. Lucero, 65, a retired school teacher. superseding indictment also removed Felix Cavazos, Enrique Cavazos’s father who passed away after the original indictment was filed, from the list of defendants.
Sentencing hearings for Enrique Cavazos, Lindsey Cavazos, Nieto and Ruelas have yet to be scheduled. The remaining six defendants, who have entered not guilty pleas to the superseding indictment, are pending trial, which has yet to be scheduled. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation of this case was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a 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. It was conducted by the Albuquerque offices of the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer M. Rozzoni is prosecuting the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is handling the forfeiture matters.