Members of Taos County-Based Heroin Trafficking and Money Laundering Ring Enter Guilty Pleas
Defendants Prosecuted as Part of HOPE Initiative Which Seeks to Reduce the Number of Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Ivan Romero, 40, the leader of a heroin trafficking organization based in Taos County, N.M. pled guilty earlier this week to federal heroin and money laundering charges filed as the result of a 15-month DEA-led multi-agency investigation. His brother, Ricco Romero, 29, and his wife, Melissa Romero, 37, also entered guilty pleas to federal charges pursuant to plea agreements with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero, Melissa Romero and five other defendants were charged in an eight-count indictment filed in Dec. 2015, that was later modified to add a ninth defendant and five additional charges by superseding indictment filed in Feb. 2016. The superseding indictment charged Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero and six other defendants with conspiring to distribute from at least June 2012 through Dec. 2015. It also charged Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero, Melissa Romero and one other defendant with conspiring to launder heroin trafficking proceeds. The superseding indictment also included substantive heroin trafficking and firearms charges against specific defendants, as well as forfeiture provisions seeking forfeiture to the United States of any and all assets and property derived, either directly or indirectly, from proceeds obtained from the criminal activities charged.
During a change of plea hearing on Dec. 5, 2016, Ivan Romero pled guilty to Counts 1 and 2 of the superseding indictment, which charged him with participating in a heroin trafficking conspiracy and a money laundering conspiracy. Ricco Romero also had a change of plea hearing on Dec. 5, 2016, during which he pled guilty to a felony information charging him with participation in a heroin trafficking conspiracy and a money laundering conspiracy, and to possessing firearms in furtherance of his drug trafficking activities. Melissa Romero entered a guilty plea on Dec. 8, 2016, to Count 2 of the superseding indictment, charging her with participating in a money laundering conspiracy.
According to the admissions in the plea agreements of Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero and Melissa Romero, as well as other court filings, Ivan Romero was the leader of a heroin trafficking organization based in Taos County. Ivan Romero and his brother Ricco Romero were responsible for purchasing quantities of heroin from suppliers in Albuquerque and Los Lunas, N.M. Other members of the organization acted as couriers and regularly transported large quantities of heroin to Ivan Romero and Ricco Romero in Taos County. Upon receiving the bulk heroin, Ivan Romero and Ricco Romero prepared the heroin for distribution by mixing or “cutting” it with other substances, repackaged it in smaller portions, and distributed it both directly and through a network of other drug dealers.
On April 2, 2015, law enforcement officers executed a state search warrant at Ivan Romero’s residence where they seized drug paraphernalia, 461 grams of marijuana, 30 grams of hashish, 300 grams of heroin and $64,920 in cash. Ivan Romero was arrested on state charges that day, and Ricco Romero subsequently assumed a greater managerial role in the heroin trafficking organization at that time.
Following Ivan Romero’s arrest on April 2, 2015, a state court set his bond at $90,000. Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero, Melissa Romero and others conspired to launder $90,000 in heroin proceeds to post that bond and secure Ivan Romero’s release from state custody. Ivan Romero soon violated the conditions of his release, was remanded back to state custody and a second bond was set at $150,000. In May 2015, Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero, Melissa Romero and others again conspired to launder an additional $150,000 in heroin proceeds to post that bond
On Nov. 17, 2015 and Dec. 1, 2015, Ricco Romero distributed heroin to an individual working with law enforcement agents. Thereafter, on Dec. 18, 2015, law enforcement agents obtained and executed a federal search warrant at Ricco Romero’s residence and at a stash house where Ricco Romero maintained a safe. During those searches, agents seized 96.8 grams of heroin, $70,562 in cash, and two firearms.
If their plea agreements are accepted by the court, Ivan Romero will be sentenced to a prison term within the range of 120 to 144 months, Ricco Romero will be sentenced to a 120-month prison term, and Melissa Romero will be sentenced to a term of probation. Pursuant to their plea agreements, Ivan Romero, Ricco Romero and Melissa Romero have agreed to forfeit $431,870 in heroin proceeds to the United States.
The investigation leading to the indictment was conducted by the Albuquerque office of the DEA, the HIDTA Region III Drug Task Force, New Mexico State Police, Taos Police Department, Taos County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy S. Vasquez is prosecuting the case as part of the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative. 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. Learn more about the New Mexico HOPE Initiative at http://www.HopeInitiativeNM.org.