21 Defendants Convicted During Three-Year Investigation Into Drug Trafficking and Criminal Activities Led by Inmates Inside State Prison Walls Using Contraband Cell Phones
OKLAHOMA CITY – As a result of a year-long investigation targeting the drug-trafficking activities of the Southside Locos Gang and members of its leadership who are currently incarcerated, thirty-five individuals have been charged in federal indictments unsealed yesterday for drug trafficking offenses, announced U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Downing. A number of these defendants have been charged with attempting to distribute multiple kilograms of methamphetamine, as well as heroin, from sources in Mexico, coordinated by individuals in prison who were communicating on contraband cell phones. Additional individuals have been charged federally as a result of this investigation, and others will be subject to state prosecution. As of today, federal, state, and local law enforcement officers have arrested a majority of the defendants, a portion of which were already in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections or local jails.
United States Attorney Downing commented: "This investigation illustrates the threat that contraband cell phones in prisons pose. All levels of government have been working to reduce and ultimately eliminate this threat. For the time being, we will continue to pursue drug traffickers both on the streets and behind prison walls."
"The FBI continues to work closely with our law enforcement partners to combat illegal gang activity and drug trafficking throughout Oklahoma and in the state prison system," said Melissa Godbold, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Oklahoma City Division. "These arrests should remind those who prey on our communities, even while incarcerated, that the FBI and law enforcement will not tolerate your behavior and you will be brought to justice."
Two federal indictments were unsealed yesterday. According to one of those (No. CR-19-373-F), incarcerated members of the conspiracy, including Gonzalo Baeza, Jose Hernandez, Eduardo Rosales, Douglas Smart, and John Heavener, served as the organizational hub of illegal drug activity. They allegedly used cell phones to instruct couriers to store drugs for them in the couriers’ vehicles or homes and to deliver distribution quantities to buyers. They are also alleged to have used cell phones to direct third parties to collect and store proceeds of their drug trafficking. According to the indictment, Baeza and Rosales were trafficking kilogram quantities of methamphetamine into the United States directly from their contacts in Mexico. Methamphetamine was allegedly stored at the home of Christian Baeza in Oklahoma City. The indictment explains that law enforcement uncovered the structure and details of the conspiracy through judicially authorized wiretaps on contraband cell phones being used in Oklahoma Department of Corrections penal institutions.
A second indictment unsealed yesterday (No. CR-19-372-F), also the result of wiretaps, describes a similar distribution network coordinated through contraband prison cell phones belonging to Ramon Dominquez, Douglas Smart, and Jose Hernandez. This conspiracy allegedly used the structure of the Southside Locos Gang to facilitate drug distribution by members and affiliates of the gang who were not incarcerated and who functioned as couriers. According to the indictment, some conspirators conducted “enforcement” work by committing acts of violence to collect drug debts, acquire new drugs, or protect assets. Conspirators stored methamphetamine and heroin at three residences in Oklahoma City.
Each of yesterday’s indictments charges one count of conspiracy, dozens of counts of distribution or possession with intent to distribute, multiple counts of using a communication facility to facilitate drug distribution, and one or more counts of maintaining drug-involved premises. Sharlene Cash is also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. If found guilty of conspiracy, each defendant faces up to life in prison and a minimum mandatory sentence of ten years, as well as supervised release of up to life and a fine of up to $10,000,000. Convictions on counts charging distribution or possession with intent to distribute would carry maximum sentences of 20 years, 40 years, or life, depending on the drug amounts alleged in each count. Each count of using a telephone to facilitate a drug felony would carry a maximum sentence of four years. Conviction on the counts charging maintaining a drug-involved premises would carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. A finding of guilt on the firearm count would carry a mandatory term of imprisonment of five years, to be served in addition to any other imprisonment imposed.
Additional federal indictments in this investigation include CR-19-153-PRW, CR-19-183-PRW, CR-19-202-HE, and CR-19-203-G.
In addition to those previously arrested, officers from a variety of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies executed a coordinated series of arrests and searches throughout Oklahoma City and Red Oak, Oklahoma, on the morning of December 5th. Including first responders, more than 100 personnel were involved in the operation. This takedown resulted in the arrest of 25 federal and state defendants. Some of the federal defendants were arraigned during the afternoon of December 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Shon T. Erwin.
Defendants Deany Nava, Ema Chavez, Hannah Shemberger, Jackie Knight, Jennifer Dawn Cuccaro, Rhiannon Faith Jones, Sharlene Cash, Shawn Lyons, and Willie Potter have not been apprehended and are considered fugitives.
Throughout the course of arresting defendants during various operations, law enforcement officers seized a total of more than 111 pounds of methamphetamine, approximately eight pounds of heroin, 216 grams of cocaine, 34 firearms, and approximately $200,000 in U.S. currency. Furthermore, coordination with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Office of Inspector General, resulted in the seizure of approximately nine contraband cell phones and five dangerous weapons from incarcerated individuals associated with the charged conspiracies.
The following agencies assisted in bringing these defendants into custody and searching locations associated with them:
This indictment is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation—Oklahoma City Field Office; the Oklahoma City Police Department; the Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Office of Inspector General. The case is part of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”), which coordinates the investigation and federal prosecution of the highest priority drug trafficking organizations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason M. Harley and David McCrary.
The public is reminded that these charges are merely allegations and that each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Reference is made to public filings for more information.