Main defendant in 32 defendant drug distribution case involving Norteños gang sentenced to fourteen years in prison


Date: December 14, 2021


SALT LAKE CITY — Joseph "Norte Joe" Gomez, the lead defendant in a large-scale 32 defendant federal indictment, was sentenced last Tuesday by a U.S. District Court Judge in the District of Utah. Judge Tena Campbell sentenced Gomez to serve 14 years in federal prison with five years of supervised release to follow his incarceration after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to launder money. All thirty-one members and associates of the Norteños street gang responsible for distributing drugs around the Salt Lake City area have pleaded guilty and four lower-level defendants have yet to be sentenced. Most of the defendants in this case have received sentences between 72 and 96 months.

Acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Andrea T. Martinez, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Darren Lian, DEA District Agent in Charge Jay Tinkler, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brad Engelbert, and Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera announced the sentencing today.

As outlined in the complaint filed in February of 2019, gang investigators documented Utah's first Norteños group in the mid-1980s, followed by several other sub-sets in the early 1990s. Unaligned or independent street gangs began associating under the Norteños umbrella in the early 2000s. According to the complaint, the Salt Lake Valley has approximately 10 active Norteños sub-sets, with approximately 100-150 active Norteños gang members. Norteños in the Salt Lake Valley have been responsible for drive-by shootings, aggravated assaults, robberies, and homicides.

The Salt Lake Area Metro Gang Unit (MGU) and the ATF opened a proactive investigation that targeted drug and firearms trafficking activities of Salt Lake City gang members, specifically looking at Norteños. The DEA and IRS-CID joined the investigation in August in 2018. Evidence gathered during the investigation shows the defendants named in the charges engaged in a typical drug-trafficking scheme, to which all the defendants pleaded guilty. The complaint alleges they were involved in transporting drugs from Mexico into the United States; moving the drugs to the destination area of Salt Lake City; distributing the drugs to re-distributors who distributed the drugs through the community; and collecting and transporting drug proceeds.

During the investigation, agents learned that Joe Gomez aka "Norte Joe" and Denny Kandt aka "Casper" were working with Mexican drug cartel members to distribute drugs that originated from Mexico in and around the Salt Lake Valley. The investigation demonstrated that Gomez received shipments of methamphetamine and heroin sent by Mexico-based drug traffickers and a Los Angeles-based drug trafficker. Gomez and Kandt supplied drugs to various Salt Lake City-based sub-distributors. In the course of a several-months long and labor-intensive investigation, agents seized more than 30 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 firearms, and more than $20,000 in bulk cash. Agents demonstrated during the investigation that this Norteños group trafficked approximately 20-30 pounds of methamphetamine each month in the District of Utah. Federal prosecutors ultimately obtained indictments for 38 defendants (in seven separate indictments, with the main indictment naming Joe Gomez, Denny Kandt, and 30 other defendants).

"The United States Attorney's Office remains committed to the federal prosecution of gang members and narcotics dealers who fuel the violent crime epidemic in the Salt Lake Valley," said Acting United States Attorney Andrea T. Martinez. "This prosecution highlights the high-level narcotics distribution networks that target our state and our communities, along with the law enforcement partnerships that enable us to dismantle drug trafficking organizations from the cartel level down to street dealers."

"The IRS is proud to have our agent work so closely and successfully with our Federal, State, and local law enforcement partners in this case," Special Agent in Charge Darren Lian stated. "Our agent used their specialized skillset to trace the money internationally and was able to show these funds used in furtherance of the scheme to traffic drugs in the United States; because of this work those who were responsible for financing this operation were able to be held accountable."

"This is one of many investigations that demonstrate the collaboration and partnership with County, State and Federal agencies. The Metro Gang Unit plays an integral part of these types of investigations. The Unified Police Department under the direction of the Sheriff is committed to addressing and abating organized drug distribution efforts and violent crime that victimize residents across Salt Lake County."

"Through a sophisticated and transnational crime-for-profit scheme; gang members brought illegal guns, drugs and violence to our streets." said Special Agent in Charge David Booth. "This multi-year investigation is proof there are no boundaries of place or time in our pursuit to stop violent crime. We are grateful for the tireless efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Office in their successful prosecution which disrupted and dismantled the criminal enterprise."

"Being able to effectively dismantle this criminal organization, to include it's leaders, is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire investigative team. It is a priority of the DEA, in conjunction with our partners, to target these types of organizations and reduce drug-related violence that diminishes the quality of life of our communities."

Assistant United States Attorneys Stephen L. Nelson, Stewart M. Young and Thaddeus J. May prosecuted the cases arising from the investigation. Special Agents from the IRS Criminal Investigations, ATF, and DEA conducted the investigation along with investigators from the Unified Police Department's Metro Gang Unit.