Update: 43 Arrested in Multi-State International Drug Trafficking Organization
80 Search Warrants in Early December Result in Seizure of more than 40 Pounds of Heroin, 8 Pounds of Fentanyl Powder, and 39 Firearms
An 18-month law enforcement operation resulted in 43 arrests and significant seizures over December 5-7, 2018, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. Hundreds of law enforcement officers were involved in making arrests and serving search warrants targeting a multi-state drug trafficking network led by drug cartel members in Mexico. The drug trafficking organization distributing heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine was active in Washington State, New York, Arizona, Oregon, California, Tennessee, and Utah. One of the local high-level managers of the drug trafficking group, CARLOS EDUARDO LOPEZ HERNANDEZ, 22, of Kent, Washington is in federal custody.
“Drug rings that peddle dangerous drugs–especially fentanyl masquerading as oxycodone pills–are a real and present danger in our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “When these rings are operated by cartels in Mexico, we will bring federal resources to bear every day of the week. I commend the hard work of all our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners who banded together to take decisive action and protect our western Washington cities and towns.”
Before the recent law enforcement actions, as part of the investigation, agents and officers had seized 7 kilos of heroin, 1.5 kilos of products containing fentanyl, methamphetamine and $164,000 in cash. On December 5through 7, 2018, law enforcement seized more than 40 pounds of heroin, 10,000 fake oxycodone pills containing fentanyl, 8 pounds of suspected fentanyl powder, 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine, 3 pounds of cocaine, 39 firearms, and more than $435,000 in cash.
In Western Washington the group distributed drugs in Pierce, Kitsap, King, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties. Over the course of the investigation law enforcement seized thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills tainted with fentanyl, a powerful and potentially deadly opioid. Following one seizure from a vehicle, Washington State Patrol troopers were hospitalized for their accidental exposure during the investigation.
“The dangerous pills containing fentanyl flowing through this pipeline operated by this Western Washington distribution network has been shut down,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Keith Weis. “Those profiting from pushing illicit opioids such as fentanyl and heroin into our most vulnerable communities will be met with a significant law enforcement response.”
The investigation began 18 months ago with drug seizures by the Bremerton Police Department. More recently, on November 28, 2018, law enforcement seized more than 13 pounds of heroin from the engine compartment of a semi-truck driven by a frequent smuggler for the ring. In addition to coded cell phone conversations, many of the members of the ring also communicated via Facebook messenger.
“An agency the size of Bremerton can impact crime on a larger scale when it is able to partner with agencies like the DEA,” said Bremerton Chief of Police James Burchett. “I am very proud of the hard work and dedication of all the officers and agents that made this operation a reality.”
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. This investigation was conducted by the DEA Tacoma Resident Office and the Bremerton Police Department, with significant assistance from the Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team (TNET), Special Operations Division, Chantilly, Virginia, and Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
The multi-agency takedown operation was supported by DEA Seattle; DEA Los Angeles; DEA San Diego, DEA San Francisco, and DEA Phoenix; as well as Homeland Security Investigations; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Marshals Service; West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team; Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team; Grays Harbor Drug Task Force; Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force; Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team; Skagit County Inter-local Drug Enforcement Unit; Thurston County Narcotics Enforcement Team; Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team; Pierce County Sheriff’s Department; King County Sheriff’s Department; Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office; Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office; Aberdeen Police Department; Auburn Police Department; Bothell Police Department; Bremerton Police Department; Burlington Police Department; Fife Police Department, Seattle Police Department; Tacoma Police Department; Lakewood Police Department; Bonney Lake Police Department; Kent Police Department; Everett Police Department; Mill Creek Police Department; Quinault Nation Police Department; Hoquiam Police Department; Washington State Department of Corrections; Washington State Patrol; Mount Vernon Police Department; Oregon State Police; and Washington and Oregon National Guard.
Tactical operations were conducted by DEA’s Special Response Teams (SRT) from Seattle and San Francisco. Additional support was provided by Bremerton Special Operations Group; Lakewood Special Operations; FBI SWAT; King County SWAT; Kitsap County SWAT; Mount Vernon SWAT; North Sound Metro SWAT, Pierce County Metro SWAT; Pierce County SWAT; Seattle PD SWAT; Snohomish County SWAT; Washington State Patrol SWAT; Skagit County HRT; Valley SWAT; and the U.S. Marshal’s Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Marci Ellsworth and Karyn Johnson.