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Press Release

Drug trafficker who created fortified compound at Bellingham homeless encampment pleads guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Arrested retuning from drug run with more than 65,000 fentanyl pills – searches turn up guns and more drugs

Seattle – A 32-year-old citizen of Mexico pleaded guilty today to drug trafficking and firearms charges related to his distribution of narcotics at a Bellingham homeless encampment, announced U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. Rigoberto Vasquez-Martinez has been in federal custody since he was arrested on August 29, 2023, following a traffic stop near Brownsville, Oregon. Vasquez-Martinez will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Evanson on June 11, 2024.

 According to the plea agreement, Vasquez-Martinez lived in a fortified encampment within an area known as the “Walmart encampment” in Bellingham. Vasquez-Martinez admits having armed guards acting as security around the main structure where he stayed. The encampment is called the Walmart encampment because it stretches a half-mile east of Walmart.

Law enforcement has responded to a wide range of incidents at the encampment and received information that Vasquez-Martinez was a significant drug supplier to the area. While Vasquez-Martinez was under investigation, he was stopped in Oregon apparently returning from California where he had picked up a supply of drugs. When Vasquez-Martinez’ car was searched, law enforcement found more than seven kilos of fentanyl pills – more than 65,000 pills in all. Vasquez-Martinez admits he was on his way back to Western Washington to distribute the fentanyl. They also seized $3,000 in cash and multiple cell phones. On that same day, law enforcement searched a storage locker in Lynnwood registered to Vasquez-Martinez’ wife. In it they found three kilos of fentanyl powder, 300 grams of methamphetamine, approximately 1.9 kilograms of heroin, and a 9mm handgun and $46,000 in cash. Vasquez-Martinez admits that 9mm handgun was used in furtherance of his drug trafficking activities.

Finally, on August 31, 2023, law enforcement searched the compound where Vasquez-Martinez had been living. They seized more than $4,000 in cash and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. They also seized a sawed-off shotgun.

Due to the drug amounts and the possession of the firearms, Vasquez-Martinez faces a mandatory minimum ten years in prison. Both possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and attempted possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute are punishable by a mandatory minimum five years in prison and up to 40 years in prison. Possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime is punishable by a mandatory minimum five years in prison to run consecutive to any other sentence imposed.

Both prosecutors and defense will recommend a ten-year sentence when Vasquez-Martinez is sentenced. Judge Evanson is not bound by that recommendation and can impose any sentence allowed by law.

The case was investigated by the DEA and the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office Gang and Drug Task Force (WGDTF).

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Amanda McDowell with assistance from Oregon Assistant United States Attorney Peter Sax.


Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or

Updated March 14, 2024

Drug Trafficking