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Press Release

Twelve Charged in Cincinnati in Connection to Mexico-Based Sinaloa Drug Cartel

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio
More than 45 Additional Defendants Charged in Connection to this Case in Other Cities and Districts

CINCINNATI – A federal grand jury has charged 12 individuals in a narcotics and money laundering conspiracy in a superseding indictment unsealed here today. Members of the group allegedly distributed fentanyl from Mexico in Middletown, Ohio and sent proceeds back to the Sinaloa Drug Cartel in Mexico.

Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Angela L. Byers, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division, Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot K. Isaac, Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw, Preble County Prosecuting Attorney Martin P. Votel and Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Paul A. Pride announced the charges.

In addition to the superseding indictment unsealed in Cincinnati today, 40 defendants have been charged in San Diego, as well as additional defendants charged in Columbus, Ohio, the Eastern District of Kentucky, the District of Kansas and the Eastern District of Washington.

Those charged in the Cincinnati case include:


Also Known As



Jose Chavez-Meraz




Rolando Chavez-Garcia




Favrisio Orozco-Meraz

Favi, Gordo, Gordito



Raul Trejo



Middletown, Ohio

Donte Holdbrook



Middletown, Ohio

Mariela Penaloza



Cleveland, Ohio

Charleston Quinn

Buddy, Buddy Rowe


Mason, Ohio

Frank Frazier, Jr.



Middletown, Ohio

Jesus Diaz

Chuy, Chewey


Ontario, Calif.

Jettie Bailey



Middletown, Ohio

Christopher Watkins



Trenton, Ohio

Courtney Bailey



Middletown, Ohio

According to the superseding indictment, the conspiracy included distributing fentanyl and heroin originating from Mexico into the Southern District of Ohio.

This investigation began when undercover FBI agents in San Diego learned that a known Sinaloa Cartel money-laundering boss, Jose Lopez-Albarran, coordinated and conducted multiple bulk cash pickups from a drug trafficking organization within the Southern District of Ohio.

Lopez-Albarran was one of 40 defendants charged in the Southern District of California. According to court documents there, he and other members of the Cartel allegedly laundered tens of millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds from the United States to Mexico between 2015 and 2018. Through the investigation in California, law enforcement discovered multiple drug-trafficking cells throughout the United States.

It is alleged that the Middletown, Ohio drug-trafficking cell led by Donte Holdbrook would send drug proceeds back to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico via Lopez-Albarran.

The superseding indictment details that the Ohio drug trafficking organization primarily conducted fentanyl sales in Middletown and received the narcotics from Mexico via Chavez-Meraz. The drugs would initially enter the United States at locations in California and Arizona, where “drug mules” would then retrieve the drugs for transport to Southern Ohio.

When a sizeable amount of drug proceeds had been collected, the co-conspirators would arrange bulk cash transports back to Mexico. Investigators witnessed at least seven bulk cash pick-ups within the Southern District of Ohio, six on Tivoli Lane in Cincinnati and one at a Comfort Inn and Suites in West Chester. Each transaction involved $25,000 to more than $180,000.

From March 28 to May 4, 2017, investigators observed multiple fentanyl sales in Middletown, several of them in exchange for as much as $2,400 in a single sale.

On August 12, 2017, Troopers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol stopped Jettie and Courtney Bailey in a traffic stop in Preble County, when they discovered nearly three kilograms of fentanyl and two kilograms of heroin concealed in the vehicle’s fuel tank. Similarly, Holdbrook was found to be in possession of 366 grams of fentanyl during a traffic stop on December 2, 2017.

The superseding indictment details at least six drug mule trips organized by Holdbrook from Ohio to multiple locations in California and Arizona, including at least one trip with Christopher Watkins, who was a reserve auxiliary police officer with the Seven Mile, Ohio Police Department.

It is alleged that Watkins was recruited because his law enforcement experience and police training would aid the group in avoiding detection while traveling with the drugs. Watkins allegedly traveled to Ontario, Calif. to pick up narcotics in exchange for $1,000 cash.

Crimes charged in the superseding indictment include:


Potential Sentences

Narcotics Conspiracy

10 years to life in prison

Possession of Fentanyl with Intent to Distribute

(400 grams or more)

10 years to life in prison

Possession of Heroin with Intent to Distribute

(1 kilogram or more)

10 years to life in prison

Possession of Fentanyl with Intent to Distribute

(40 grams or more)

Five to 40 years in prison

Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises

Up to 20 years in prison

Money Laundering Conspiracy

Up to 20 years in prison

Interstate Travel Facilitating Unlawful Activities

Up to five years in prison

In Columbus, three individuals were arrested yesterday and charged by criminal complaint with money laundering, money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. The three Columbus residents charged include Timothy J.Cox, 41, Todd W. Spriggs, 37, and Randy Ellis Mullins, Jr., 40. Cox and Spriggs are each also charged with felon in possession of a firearm. A federal grand jury indicted the trio this morning in Columbus on the same charges.

In Lexington, Ky., three individuals – Gerardo Mejia-Palacio, Hector Salas-Pina and Ansar I. McIver – have been charged with crimes related to drug trafficking and money laundering. Another Lexington resident, Shontail M. Hocker, 42, was charged in the Southern District of California with conspiring to commit money laundering, based on her involvement with individuals implicated in the San Diego investigation.

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of the cases by the FBI – including FBI San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force, FBI Cincinnati Division and FBI Cleveland Division, Cincinnati and Middletown police departments, Ohio State Highway Patrol and Warren County Drug Task Force, as well as the coordination of Preble County Prosecutor Votel.

Glassman also commended Assistant United States Attorney Karl P. Kadon, who is prosecuting the Cincinnati case, and Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Prichard, who is prosecuting the Columbus case.

An indictment merely contains allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

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Updated March 9, 2018

Drug Trafficking