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Press Release

Thirty-Two Members and Associates of Norteños Charged in Methamphetamine, Heroin and Fentanyl Trafficking with CJNG Drug Cartel

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Utah
Charges Allege That Leaders Worked with Mexican Drug Cartel CJNG to Distribute More Than 400 Pounds of Methamphetamine, 50 Pounds of Heroin and Thousands of Fentanyl Pills Throughout the Salt Lake Valley

SALT LAKE CITY – The grand jury issued a 27-defendant, 34-count indictment on Wednesday, charging twenty-seven individuals associated with the Nortenos gang for their roles in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, fentanyl, and heroin across the Wasatch Front. Previously, it returned five other indictments relating to this investigation and operation. The charges follow joint Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force operations conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Metro Narcotics Task Force (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Unified Police Department’s Metro Gang Unit (MGU), the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division (IRS), and the United States Marshals Service.

These charges are the result of an investigation beginning in September of 2020 in Utah.  During the investigation, law enforcement demonstrated extensive cooperation across the Salt Lake Valley, as the DEA, ATF, Unified Police Department’s Metro Gang Unit, IRS, and the United States Marshals Service conducted a proactive investigation targeting drug and firearms trafficking activities of Salt Lake City gang members, specifically Norteños and their associates  This operation follows a previous 38-defendant federal investigation and indictments of Norteños and their associates trafficking in methamphetamine and heroin with the Sinaloa Cartel in February 2019.

During this new operation, law enforcement officers seized more than 42 pounds of methamphetamine, seven pounds of heroin, 5,000 fentanyl pills, 71 grams of fentanyl powder, 15 firearms, and more than $25,000. Using court-authorized investigative techniques, law enforcement learned that the primary narcotics supplier for this group was Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Investigators further estimate that the organization and its members are responsible for more than 420 pounds of methamphetamine and 50 pounds of heroin being transported to, and distributed in, the Salt Lake Valley during 2020 and 2021. Evidence gathered during the investigation demonstrate that the defendants were involved in transporting drugs from Mexico into the United States; moving the drugs to Salt Lake City; distributing the drugs to re-distributors who distributed the drugs throughout the community; and collecting and transporting drug proceeds back from Utah to Mexico.

Acting United States Attorney for the District of Utah Andrea T. Martinez announced the charges today along with DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jay Tinkler, ATF Resident Agent in Charge Michael Minichino, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, U.S. Marshal for the District of Utah Matthew Harris, and IRS-Criminal Investigations Special Agent Stephen Washburn.

The largest indictment returned on Wednesday charges 27 individuals with 34 federal counts, including continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl, conspiracy to launder money, along with several distribution and possession with intent to distribute narcotics charges, and several additional firearms charges. 

Those charged in the indictment are:

  • Luis Cuna-Vigil, 35, of Rosarito, Mexico;
  • Jesus Avila-Garcia, 46, of Salt Lake City;
  • Joe Robert Rael, aka “Jojo,” 52, of Salt Lake City;
  • Jerry Philip Vigil, aka “Nino,”47, of Bountiful;
  • Jennifer Lopez-Lopez, 20, of San Marcos, California;
  • Maria Isla-Avila, aka “Sky,” 22, of Escondido, California;
  • Martin Verduzco-Muro, aka “Lalo,” 28, of Bountiful;
  • Edward David Lucero, 54, of Sandy;
  • Linda Hernandez-Alvarez, 34, of Salt Lake City;
  • Brian Michael Fioravanti, 34, of Salt Lake City;
  • Jeffrey Kraig Ellis, 60, of West Valley City;
  • Patrice Raelynn Estes, 49, of Salt Lake City;
  • Leandro Cortez Ochoa Lovato-Howells, 40, of Salt Lake City;
  • Mario Alberto Lovato, aka “Grump,” 40, of Salt Lake City;
  • Joseph Raymond Trujillo, aka “Qujo,” 31, of West Valley City;
  • Celina Alexandra Garcia, “Baby G,” 26, of Salt Lake City;
  • Pete Vince Espinoza, 37, of Salt Lake City;
  • Judy Ann Maestas, 30, of Salt Lake City;
  • Felicia Nicole Mingura, aka “Fela,” 34, of Salt Lake City;
  • Erika Rachelle Vigil, 30, of West Valley City;
  • Jessica LeAnn Vigil, 30, of Sandy;
  • Anthony James Runion, aka “Lil Ace,” 19, of Salt Lake City;
  • Richard Lawrence Trujillo, 32, of Salt Lake City;
  • Brandon Jay Perrault, aka “Trip,” 42, of Salt Lake City;  
  • Pedro Jurado, 56, of Midvale;
  • Kyle Jimenez-Cuna, 18, of Bountiful.

The grand jury previously returned five indictments for defendants relating to this operation. Included in those additional five indictments are:

  • Linda Rose Garcia, 33, of Salt Lake City, charged with being a felon in possession of firearm;
  • Joseph Paul House, aka “Chino,” 36, of Taylorsville, charged with being a felon in possession of firearm;
  • Victor Jurado, 34, of Salt Lake City, charged with being a felon in possession of firearm;
  • Daniel Maestas, 48, of Salt Lake City, charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute;
  • David Soto-Acosta, aka “Droops,” 26, of Salt Lake City, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen L. Nelson, Jamie Z. Thomas, and Stewart M. Young in the Utah U.S. Attorney’s Office are prosecuting the case, along with Assistant District Attorney Adam Blanch from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. Special Agents from the DEA’s Metro Narcotics Task Force, ATF, and IRS Criminal Investigation Division, investigators from the Unified Police Department’s Metro Gang Unit, and Deputies from the United States Marshals Service, conducted the investigation.  

Indictments are not findings of guilt. Defendants charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.

Updated June 1, 2021

Drug Trafficking