The first major narcotics trafficking indictment resulting from a years-long investigation by the Los Angeles Strike Force was unsealed Thursday as authorities arrested seven defendants — including a Chula Vista woman — charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons offenses.
The defendants allegedly were responsible for importing hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin from Mexico into the United States. The narcotics were distributed throughout the country via a network of cartel associates, and the proceeds were then funneled back to Mexico, according to the indictment.
In addition to the seven arrested this morning, one of the defendants was already in a California prison on unrelated charges. The remaining 14 defendants, including four whose true names are not yet known, are fugitives, most of whom are believed to be in Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
During the investigation, members of the task force seized narcotics with an approximate street value in Los Angeles of more than $6 million, including about 290 pounds of meth, 280 pounds of cocaine, 30 pounds of heroin and 81 pounds of marijuana, prosecutors allege.
Authorities also seized 33 firearms, three vehicles with hidden compartments and $1.3 million in cash. The indictment specifically details 14 significant seizures, one of which involved almost 35 pounds of cocaine and meth, and dozens of weapons.
Another seizure involved more than 70 pounds of meth, cocaine and heroin as well as two vacuum-sealed bundles of cash.
Prosecutors said the network regularly transported narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border and at times stored drugs in stash houses across the San Gabriel Valley.
The stream of narcotics coming into the United States fuels violence in local neighborhoods and contributes to the current drug epidemic in the United States,” said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
The multi-agency operation “is the result of a lengthy investigation targeting cartel members for their roles in an international drug importation network that enriched Mexico-based cartel members while American communities were being adversely affected,” she said.
The 19-count indictment specifically charges the defendants with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The lead defendant, Jeuri Limon Elenes — also known as “Prude,” “Rzr,” “Fox” and “Royal Nuevo” — is charged with acquiring narcotics in Mexico and arranging transportation of the drugs into the United States. He remains a fugitive, authorities said.
The seven newly arrested defendants are:
— Julian Rocha, also known as “JRoc,” 33, of Azusa, who is charged with being a Los Angeles-based purchaser of Mexican narcotics;
— Froilan Villarreal, also known as “Del Monte,” of Azusa, who allegedly illegally possessed seven firearms when authorities seized large quantities of cocaine and meth from his El Monte home;
— Oscar Arredondo, 53, of Bakersfield, an alleged drug transporter who was arrested in the Eastern District of California;
— Maria Ernestina Limon Elenes, 64, of Azusa, an alleged facilitator and the mother of lead defendant/fugitive Limon;
— Antonio Orozco, also known as “El Sr.,” 45, of Long Beach, who allegedly transported narcotics across the international border;
— Martin Ruiz Saldana, of Santa Ana, who allegedly received narcotics from Villarreal; and
— Audrey Rose Urrea, of Chula Vista, who allegedly attempted to transport narcotics across the international border and who was arrested in the San Diego area.
An additional defendant, Fernando Madueno Sanchez, was already in state prison. Prosecutors will seek to transfer him to federal custody to face the charges in the indictment.
The Los Angeles Strike Force was formed in 2014 to target Mexican drug cartels that utilize the Los Angeles metropolitan region as a primary hub for the distribution of narcotics across the United States.
In addition to the narcotics and weapons offenses, the indictment includes a charge of conspiracy to launder money that alleges the drug trafficking organization used the United States banking system to launder drug proceeds by making multiple cash deposits into purportedly legitimate accounts to disguise the origin of thousands of dollars of illicit funds.
If convicted as charged, all defendants would be subject to potential sentences of life without parole in federal prison, prosecutors noted.
–City News Service
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: