Officials Take Down Alleged Gang-Affiliated Drug Traffickers In Imperial County; Take Drugs And Guns Off The Street
EL CENTRO – Thirty alleged members of a large-scale methamphetamine and heroin drug trafficking organization in Imperial County are charged in federal grand jury indictments unsealed today with conspiring to import and distribute the illicit drugs.
Early this morning, a contingent of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials arrested 43 people – including those under federal indictment plus others who will be charged by the state - and seized drugs, cash, vehicles and 14 firearms in connection with the year-long investigation. During the predawn raids, agents also served 38 search warrants in Calipatria, El Centro and Brawley. The firearms ranged from handguns to assault rifles.
The arrests were based on two grand jury indictments. The charges include conspiracy to import and distribute methamphetamine and heroin and possession of methamphetamine and heroin with intent to distribute. So far, authorities have seized more than 30 pounds of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of 1 million dollars.
“With these arrests and charges, we have taken the first step in wiping out a major connection to methamphetamine in the valley,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “This type of investigation and prosecution has a significant impact on public safety and quality of life in this community.”
“Today the Imperial Valley law enforcement community has taken down a widespread narcotics distribution ring that supplied the vast majority of the meth and heroin on the streets in El Centro, Brawley and Calipatria,” said Joe Garcia, interim special agent in charge for ICE HSI in San Diego. “While the impact on public safety in these communities will be far-reaching for the law abiding residents, our united force sends a bold message that criminals involved in smuggling drugs and weapons and gang activity should fear.”
The investigation involved federal wiretaps and extensive surveillance. Numerous defendants are documented members or associates of gangs, including individuals with ties to the North Side Centro, East Side Centro, and West Side Centro street gangs in El Centro, California; the Broleno street gang operating in Brawley, California; and the Calipas street gang operating in Calipatria, California.
The indictments and search warrants describe a conspiracy among a number of family members – parents, siblings, cousins, married couples - who formed the Lozano-Gonzalez drug trafficking organization. The organization allegedly imported methamphetamine and heroin from Mexicali and smuggled it through the Calexico ports of entry via pedestrian couriers and cars, into Imperial County.
Imperial Valley street gang members and those associated with the street gangs acted as a distribution network for the methamphetamine and heroin supply. Several documented gang members and associates are charged in the indictments.
Methamphetamine is a scourge in just about every community in this country, and Imperial County is no exception.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of California has seen a startling increase in the number of methamphetamine cases in the last five years in Imperial County – from 88 in FY 2010 to 134 cases in FY 2014. That’s 52 PERCENT more meth cases.
Today, methamphetamine-related prosecutions make up 70 percent of all federal drug prosecutions in the Imperial Valley. Just a few years ago, in 2010, methamphetamine was just 18 percent of our drug cases.
According to the Imperial County Coroner, the number of deaths due to methamphetamine has remained steady over the last several years in the county, averaging about 8 a year, except for a big spike last year, when there were 18 deaths attributed to methamphetamine use.
“We’ve really got a tremendous public health crisis on our hands,” U.S. Attorney Duffy said. “Meth destroys lives, families and communities. We are absolutely committed to making our neighborhoods safe from violent gang activity, drug trafficking and the devastating impact of methamphetamine and other dangerous drugs.”
Duffy said her office is engaged in ongoing communications with Mexican counterparts, both here and in Mexico City, on jointly attacking this issue. “We are evaluating the problem and working to come up with strategies.”
U.S. Attorney Duffy praised the law enforcement agencies of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations; the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office; the El Centro Police Department; and more than a dozen other agencies that assisted with this huge takedown, believed to be the largest in Imperial County to date.
This investigation was conducted under the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. The OCDETF program was created to consolidate and utilize all law enforcement resources in this country’s battle against major drug trafficking.
United States Attorney, Laura Duffy appearing at the press conference.
|DEFENDANTS||Case Number: 14-CR-3007|
|Francisco Lozano-Moreno, Jr.|
|Jose Aquiles Gomez-Zayas|
|Mike Angel Saiza, Jr.|
|Joe Angel Franco|
|Abel Hernandez Ambriz|
|Julissa Janeth Leal-Hernandez|
|Alexis Pinedo Ambriz|
|Juan Carlos Lozano|
|Breanne Nicole Williams|
|Cindy Marie Mendivel|
|Gerald Anthony Phillips|
|Jason Jerry Gonzalez|
Conspiracy to Import Methamphetamine in violation of Title 21, U.S.C. Secs. 952, 960 and 963;
|DEFENDANTS||Case Number: 14-CR-3008|
|Cesar Adrian Gomez|
|Luis Fernando Calderon Nava|
|Monique Vania Camargo|
|Shandra Decoye Camargo|
Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin in violation of Title 21, U.S.C. Secs. 841(a)(1) and 846;
El Centro Police Department
*Indictments and complaints are not evidence that the defendant committed the crime charged. All defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.