Southern District of California
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California
Major Takedown Dismantles Multi-State Methamphetamine Network Tied to Sinaloa Cartel
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew J. Sutton (619) 546-8941 and Ryan A. Sausedo (619) 546-9689
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – May 21, 2019
San Diego, Ca: Indictments were unsealed today in San Diego federal court charging 43 members of a methamphetamine distribution network tied to the Sinaloa Cartel with federal drug trafficking and money laundering offenses.
During the coordinated takedown that began early this morning, investigators executed over a dozen search warrants and seized approximately 80 pounds of methamphetamine, four firearms, and more than $100,000 in U.S. currency. As of today at 5 p.m., 33 of the forty-three defendants are either in federal or state custody. Authorities are continuing to search for 10 defendants. Many of the defendants are scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Lopez at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.
According to the indictments and other publicly filed court documents, this San Diego based network supplied multi-kilogram quantities of methamphetamine and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) to dozens of subdistributors located throughout the United States and the world, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Virginia, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, New York and the United Arab Emirates. In return, tens of thousands of dollars in narcotics proceeds were returned to the network’s leaders via shipments of bulk cash, structured cash deposits into bank accounts, and online money transfer systems like PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App.
The defendants operated the drug-trafficking scheme by arranging for the shipment of large quantities of methamphetamine from San Diego to various locations in the United States and internationally, through FedEx and the United States Postal Service (USPS). The drug shipments were mailed weekly to various hotels, residences, and Airbnb locations. As part of the scheme, the defendants also created multiple fraudulent FedEx accounts. These fraudulent FedEx accounts were billed to and paid for by large corporations, in hopes that the large businesses would not notice the illicit packages.
Despite their sophisticated efforts, law enforcement penetrated this network with a variety of investigative techniques, including physical surveillance, obtaining phone records, financial documents tracking warrants on telephones and vehicles and undercover agents. Over the course of the investigation, agents obtained dozens of search warrants and a six-month-long federal wiretap to track the communications and the location of the defendants. In conjunction with the wiretaps, agents ultimately seized approximately 78 pounds of methamphetamine and four firearms tied to the network.
In addition to the indictments announced today, more than a dozen defendants who worked with this network have been charged in connection with this investigation in multiple jurisdictions across the United States, including by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the District of New Jersey, the Eastern District of Virginia, the Western District of Texas, and Eastern District of Arkansas, as well as the Florida Office of the Attorney General and the Yuma, Arizona County Attorney’s Office.
“Today we have completely dismantled this San Diego-based international drug trafficking network with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “I want to congratulate the outstanding federal, state, and local law enforcement cooperation that resulted in this highly successful investigation. Replicating this kind of aggressive law enforcement takedown is critical to breaking the backs of these criminal networks and continuing our efforts against the Sinaloa Cartel.”
“The Sinaloa Cartel relies on members of our communities to distribute their drugs. Because they manipulate our commercial distribution routes to make a buck, our streets are flooded with high purity and low cost methamphetamine,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “Without their distribution networks, such as the one dismantled today, cartels would not be able to operate drug businesses that rival Fortune 500 companies and dangerous drugs, like methamphetamine, would be scarce, expensive and of low purity. The operation today will ultimately disrupt the supply chain, diminish profits and make it harder for the Sinaloa Cartel to do business in the United States. Just as important, today’s operation sends a message: If you’re profiting from drug addiction, you will be pursued relentlessly by DEA, regardless of your role in the distribution network.”
“As alleged, the defendants ran a sophisticated network of drug trafficking and money laundering,” said Johnathan Smith, IRS Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office. “This case demonstrates our ability to identify and trace even the most sophisticated drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. IRS – Criminal Investigation, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, will remain committed to disrupting the flow of illicit drug proceeds and dismantling the most sophisticated drug and money laundering organizations.”
“There is no place for illegal drugs in our communities,” said Undersheriff Michael Barnett. “Drugs ruin the life of the user and destroy families. Those who push drugs into our neighborhoods and homes must be held accountable. This massive operation was uncovered because of a Sheriff's Detective and DEA Special Agent who followed up on information. Working together, the Sheriff's Department will continue to target those responsible for distributing and selling illegal drugs in our communities.”
U.S. Attorney Brewer also praised federal, state, and local law enforcement for the coordinated team effort in the culmination of this investigation. This case was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Narcotics Task Force (NTF) and the Internal Revenue Service. The NTF is a DEA-led task force comprised of federal and local law enforcement from the DEA, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSD), the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), the Escondido Police Department (EPD), United States Border Patrol (USBP), and the San Diego County Probation Office. Agents and officers from the United States Marshals Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, also provided vital assistance for the investigation. Attorneys from the Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations, Electronic Surveillance Unit, likewise provided critical work as part of the investigative team. He also thanked our vital foreign law enforcement partners in the United Arab Emirates – the Abu Dhabi Police.
This case is the result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) a partnership that brings together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations and enterprises.
The United States is represented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew J. Sutton and Ryan A. Sausedo.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defendants Criminal Case No: 19-cr-1787-BAS
Drug Enforcement Administration, Narcotics Task Force
Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
United States Marshals Service
United States Postal Inspection Service
United States Border Patrol
Federal Bureau of Prisons
San Diego Police Department
Escondido Police Department
National City Police Department
San Diego County Probation Office
San Diego County District Attorney’s Office
Riverside County Sheriff's Department
Austin, Texas Police Department
Seminole County, Florida Sheriff’s Department
Department of Justice, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces
Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona
Florida Office of the Attorney General
Yuma, Arizona County Attorney’s Office
Abu Dhabi Police