Twenty-two people have been accused of operating a cross-border drug trafficking organization in a scheme that used houses in the San Gabriel Valley to store illicit merchandise, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.
The prosecution follows a two-year wiretap investigation into associates of the Sinaloa cartel, which was previously led by the notorious drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now jailed in the U.S.
During the investigation, a team of federal and local agents seized nearly 300 pounds of methamphetamine, 280 pounds of cocaine and 30 pounds of heroin, along with $1.3 million in cash, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Of those charged, seven people were arrested Thursday and one was already in a California state prison. Fourteen others — four of whom have unknown identities — remain at large and investigators suspect they are in Mexico.
The lead defendant, Jeuri Limon Elenes, is accused of obtaining the drugs in Mexico and arranging their transport, prosecutors said.
Limon, as he is referred to in court papers, remains at large, but his mother, Maria Ernestina Limone Elenes, 64, was arrested Thursday in Azusa and was described by prosecutors as an "alleged facilitator" of the trafficking ring.
Prosecutors said Limon, who is also known as "Prude," "Fox" and "Royal Nuevo," was accused of orchestrating deposits of money derived from drug sales in Memphis, Tenn.; San Francisco; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix and Baldwin Park, among other areas.
Audrey Rose Urrea, of Chula Vista, who allegedly attempted to transport narcotics across the international border, was arrested Thursday morning.
Others taken into custody Thursday include a Bakersfield man who allegedly transported drugs; a Long Beach man who allegedly moved narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border; and Froilan Villarreal, whose El Monte home had large amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine as well as seven illegal firearms, all of which investigators seized.
The 19-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on April 7 painstakingly documents how the group used Blackberry phones and discussed — often in coded language — smuggling drugs across the border in cars like a Mini Cooper or Chevy Cavalier.
Investigators also monitored the defendants as they allegedly set up drug deliveries and reacted to associates' arrests.
Once in the U.S., the drugs were kept in homes and apartments in Modesto, El Monte and Azusa, where vacuum-sealing equipment and bags were also found, according to court papers.
The case is the first major drug trafficking case for the Los Angeles Strike Force, a multiagency team including FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents as well as representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, IRS and Azusa Police Department. The team was launched in 2014 to focus on Mexican drug cartels that base their U.S. drug distribution in the greater Los Angeles area.
“The indictment and today’s arrests demonstrate the strike force’s ability to reach both sides of the border, impacting the Sinaloa cartel by disrupting their drug supply chain and neutralizing key players in the organization,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge David J. Downing.
“We’ve sent a message to the cartels — they won’t be allowed to operate freely in Los Angeles or conduct business as usual,” Downing said.