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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 26, 2018

Multi-Agency Investigation Dismantles Las Cruces-Based Drug Trafficking Organizations

One Distribution Network Allegedly Extended to Tennessee and South Carolina

ALBUQUERQUE – Sixteen individuals are facing drug trafficking and money laundering charges as the result of a multi-agency investigation led by DEA and HSI that targeted cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine traffickers and money launderers operating in southern New Mexico, west Texas and as far east as Tennessee and South Carolina.  During the course of the investigation, law enforcement authorities seized approximately 3.6 kilograms of cocaine, approximately 2.5 kilograms of heroin, approximately 13 kilograms of methamphetamine, $124,885 in cash, eight vehicles and seven firearms.  The investigation culminated yesterday when 14 of the defendants were arrested in Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, Tex., by teams of federal, state, county and local law enforcement officers during a law enforcement operation.

The results of the investigation were announced by U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge Kyle W. Williamson of the DEA’s El Paso Division, Acting Special Agent in Charge Jack P. Staton of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso, Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez, Jr., of the Phoenix Field Division of IRS-Criminal Investigation, Chief Patrick Gallagher of the Las Cruces Police Department, and Dona Ana County Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil.

In announcing the results of the investigation, U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson said, “The charges filed and drugs seized as the result of this investigation illustrate the success of our District’s collaborative efforts to root out drug traffickers who operate in our communities.  My Office is proud to work with our federal, state, county and local law enforcement partners to safeguard families in Las Cruces and throughout New Mexico.”

 “Yesterday’s arrests show the value of information sharing and coordination with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to target criminal organizations that are responsible for the drug-related violence in our communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Kyle W. Williamson of DEA’s El Paso Division.  “By working together to reduce drug trafficking and use across the nation, we are making our communities safer and our families stronger.”

“The success of yesterday’s enforcement action exemplifies HSI’s commitment to work with its law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking organizations in our community,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Jack P. Staton of HSI El Paso. “These DTOs not only deal drugs; they commit violent crimes and wreak havoc in our neighborhoods.”

“It takes coordination, hard work and dedication to take down transnational drug trafficking organizations with each agency contributing its own expertise to the investigation. IRS-CI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to protect the residents of New Mexico from drug trafficking organizations,” stated Special Agent in Charge Ismael Nevarez, Jr., of the Phoenix Field Division of IRS-Criminal Investigation.  

“The Las Cruces Police Department is honored to work alongside our counterparts, from local and federal agencies, to help eradicate harmful drug operations that are poisoning our communities,” said Las Cruces Police Chief Patrick Gallagher.  “We believe our actions will have a significant impact on drug trafficking organizations working locally and regionally.”

“There is no greater purpose for the Sheriff’s Department than to ensure the safety of our children,” said Dona Ana County Sheriff Enrique “Kiki” Vigil. “Yesterday’s joint effort to take drugs and criminals off the street is a continuation of that mission, and our community is better for it.”

The charges against the defendants, which are contained in five separate federal indictments, are the result of an investigation that began in April 2017, and initially targeted Eulalio Valentin Chavez, 31, of Las Cruces, the leader of a drug trafficking organization that allegedly distributed cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in Las Cruces.  The investigation expanded to include four other drug trafficking organizations that allegedly imported cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine from Mexico, and distributed the drugs in the Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, Tex., area, as well as transported drugs as far east as Tennessee and South Carolina.  The investigation was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, 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.

Based on the investigation, a federal grand jury returned five indictments on April 18, 2018, charging 15 defendants with federal drug trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses.  The indictments generally allege that the defendants conspired to violate the federal narcotics trafficking laws and violated the federal narcotics laws in Dona Ana County, N.M., and elsewhere.  The indictments also charge certain of the defendants with money laundering and firearms offenses.  Four of the indictments include overt acts that describe the DTOs’ alleged operations, including the quantities of drugs allegedly routinely distributed by the DTOs and the broad geographic scope of one of the DTO’s distribution network.  The final defendant was arrested during yesterday’s enforcement operation and will be charged in a criminal complaint with drug trafficking and money laundering offenses that will be filed today.

Fourteen of the 16 defendants charged as the result of the investigation were arrested during yesterday’s law enforcement operation.  The two remaining defendants were already in custody and will be transferred to federal court to face the charges against them. 

The defendants arrested yesterday will make their initial appearances in federal court in Las Cruces today, April 26, 2018, at 10:30 a.m.  The defendants will remain in federal custody pending arraignment and detention hearings, which are scheduled for May 1, 2018, in Las Cruces federal court.

These cases were investigated by the DEA, HSI, IRS, U.S. Border Patrol, the Las Cruces Police Department and the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office.  The FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, New Mexico State Police, Hatch Police Department and New Mexico Air National Guard assisted with yesterday’s law enforcement operation.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Selesia Winston and Sarah M. Davenport of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office are prosecuting the cases filed as the result of the investigation.

SUMMARY OF CHARGES IN INDICTMENTS

INDICTMENT:  United States v. Jose I. Caro, et al., 18-CR-1251

Count 1 of the Indictment charges Jose I. Caro and Eulalio V. Chavez with participating in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy.  If convicted on this count, each faces a statutory penalty of a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.  

Count 2 charges Chavez with distributing cocaine.  If convicted on this count, he faces a statutory penalty of a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine. 

Counts 4 to 7 and 9 charge Caro and Chavez with distributing cocaine.  If convicted on this count, each faces a statutory penalty of a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine. 

Counts 3 and 8 charge Caro and Chavez with using communication facilities to facilitate drug trafficking crimes.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for four years and a $250,000 fine.

Jose I. Caro, 33, of Las Cruces, was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

Eulalio V. Chavez, 32, of Las Cruces, was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.  Chavez also is charged in United States v. Grado, et al., 18-CR-1254, and United States v. Ordonez, et al., 18-CR-1255. 

INDICTMENT:  United States v. Fidel Gonzales, et al., 18-CR-1252

Count 1 of the Indictment charges all six defendants with participating in a heroin and cocaine trafficking conspiracy.  If convicted, two of the defendants face a statutory penalty of a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years of imprisonment and a $5 million fine, and the other four defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years of imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

Count 2 charges certain four defendants with participating in an international money laundering conspiracy.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years and a $500,000 fine.

Counts 3 to 9, 11, 12, 16 and 17 charge certain defendants with using communication facilities to facilitate drug trafficking crimes.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for four years and a $250,000 fine.

Counts 10 charges four defendants with international money laundering offenses.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years and a $500,000 fine.

Counts 13 and 14 charge two defendants with distributing cocaine.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years and a $1 million fine.

Count 15 charges one defendant with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years and a $1 million fine.

Charges against Defendants

Fidel Gonzales, 36, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 2, 3, 4,6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, and 17 of the indictment.  Gonzales was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces. 

Brian Estrada, 36, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the indictment. Estrada was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

Brian Nevarez, 33, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 5, 12, and 14 of the indictment. Nevarez was yesterday in Las Cruces.

Barbara Lozoya Michel, 64, of El Paso, Texas, is charged in Counts 1, 2, 9, 10, and 16 of the indictment.  Michel was arrested yesterday in El Paso.

Orlando Bustillos, 27, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 12, and 15 of the indictment. Bustillos was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

Fidel M. Ortiz, 54, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 2, 10, 11, and 17 of the indictment.  Ortiz was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

INDICTMENT:  United States v. Martin Montelongo-Salas et al., 18-CR-1253

Count 1 of the indictment charges Martin Montelongo-Salas and Giovanni Melero with participating in a heroin trafficking conspiracy. 

Count 2 of the indictment charges Montelongo-Salas and Melero with distributing heroin. 

Count 3 of the indictment charges Montelongo-Salas and Melero with possession heroin with intent to distribute. 

If convicted on Counts 1, 2 or 3, Montelongo-Salas and Melero each face a statutory penalty of a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years of imprisonment and a $5 million fine.

Melero is charged in Count 4 with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.   If convicted on this count, Melero faces a statutory penalty of a maximum of 20 years of imprisonment and a $1 million fine. 

Count 5 charges Melero with carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.  If convicted on this count, Melero faces a statutory penalty of a mandatory five years of imprisonment, consecutive to any other sentence imposed in this case. 

Count 6 of the indictment charges Melero with being a felon in possession of a firearm.  Melero is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because of his prior felony convictions.  If convicted on this count, Melero faces a statutory penalty of a maximum of ten years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Martin Montelongo-Salas, 31, of Las Cruces, was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces. 

Giovanni Melero, 31, of Las Cruces, is in custody at the Dona Ana County Detention Center and will be transferred to federal court to face the charges against him.

INDICTMENT:  United States v. Alonso P. Grado, Jr., et al., 18-CR-1254

Count 1 of the indictment charges four defendants with participating in a heroin and methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy.  If convicted the defendants face a statutory penalty of a mandatory minimum of ten years and a maximum of life of imprisonment and a $10 million fine.

Counts 2 to 4, 6, 7, and 9 to 13 of the indictment charge certain defendants with using communication facilities to facilitate drug trafficking crimes.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for four years and a $250,000 fine.

Count 5 of the indictment charges certain defendants with distributing heroin.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years of imprisonment and a $5 million fine.

Count 8 charges certain defendants with distributing methamphetamine.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is a mandatory minimum of ten years and a maximum of life of imprisonment and a $10 million fine.

Charges against Defendants

Alonso P. Grado, Jr., 40, of Deming, N.M., is charged in Counts 1, 8, and 12 of the indictment.  Grado was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

Rene Verdugo, 44, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the indictment.  Verdugo is currently in federal custody and pending disposition on a supervised release violation for a prior felony conviction.  Verdugo is also charged in United States v. Ordonez, et al., 18-CR-1255.

Stephan E. Morales, 35, of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 4, 5, 9, 11, and 13 of the indictment.  Morales was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

Eulalio V. Chavez is charged in Counts 1 to 8 and 10 of the indictment.  Chavez is also charged in United States v. Caro, et al., 18-CR-1251, and United States v. Ordonez, et al., 18-CR-1255.

INDICTMENT: United States v. Savannah J. Ordonez, et al., 18-CR-1255

Count 1 of the indictment charges four defendants with participating in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy.  If convicted, the four defendants each face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years of imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

Counts 2 and 3 of the indictment charges two defendants with using communication facilities to facilitate drug trafficking crimes.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for four years and a $250,000 fine.

Counts 4 and 5 of the indictment charge two defendants with distributing methamphetamine.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years and a $1 million fine.

Count 6 of the indictment charges one defendant with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.  The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for 20 years and a $1 million fine.

Charges against Defendants

Savannah J. Ordonez, 33 of Las Cruces, is charged in Counts 1, 3, and 4 of the indictment.   Ordonez was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.

Eulalio V. Chavez is charged in Counts 1 and 2 of the indictment.  Chavez was arrested yesterday in Las Cruces.  Chavez is also charged in United States v. Caro, et al., 18-CR-1251, and United States v. Grado, et al., 18-CR-1254. 

Verdugo is charged in Counts 1 to 3, and 5 of the indictment.  Verdugo is also charged in United States v. Grado, et al., 18-CR-1254. 

Dierdre Gonzalez, 47, of Garfield, N.M., is charged in Counts 1 and 5 of the indictment.  Gonzalez was arrested yesterday in Garfield.

Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are only accusations.  Defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Financial Fraud
Firearms Offenses
Component(s): 
Updated April 26, 2018