Sixty defendants charged in nationwide takedown of Sinaloa Cartel methamphetamine network

 

Date: June 29, 2021

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

San Diego — An indictment was unsealed today in federal court charging 60 members of a San Diego-based international methamphetamine distribution network tied to the Sinaloa Cartel with drug trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses.

During the last month, hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents and officers have arrested dozens of defendants and searched multiple locations throughout San Diego County and in five states. As of today, 44 of the 60 defendants are either in federal or state custody, and the search continues for 16 defendants. In addition to these arrests, law enforcement has seized more than 220 pounds of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs; 90 firearms; and more than $250,000 in cash. Law enforcement officials are also seeking the forfeit of residences, high-end vehicles, and bulk cash belonging to these defendants.

According to the indictment and other publicly filed documents, over the last several years, this complex San Diego-based network obtained thousands of kilograms of methamphetamine from the Sinaloa Cartel to smuggle across the international border concealed in hidden compartments in passenger cars and motorcycles. The defendants then used these cars and motorcycles, along with trains, commercial airlines, the U.S. Mail, and commercial delivery services like FedEx and UPS to distribute that methamphetamine to dozens of sub-distributors located throughout San Diego County, the United States, and the world, including Hawaii, Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kentucky, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

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 money transfer systems like MoneyGram, Western Union, PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App. And to protect their illegal operations, the defendants allegedly possessed dozens of firearms and used encrypted communication providers to communicate with each other. This drug trafficking and money laundering continued unabated throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Despite their sophisticated efforts, law enforcement successfully penetrated this network with a variety of investigative techniques, including physical surveillance, obtaining phone records and financial documents, undercover agents, search warrants, as well as a six-month federal wiretap to intercept the communications and track the locations of the defendants.

Today we have dealt a serious blow to this San Diego-based international drug trafficking network with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel," said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. "The intersection of drug dealing and gun possession inevitably leads to violence in our communities. By dismantling this network, the Department of Justice reaffirms its unwavering commitment to reducing violent crime and building a San Diego where all our citizens are safe."

"The primary motivation of drug traffickers is greed," said Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent in Charge for IRS-Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles Field Office. "IRS-CI will continue to work tirelessly alongside our partner agencies to stop the flow of narcotics and narcotics proceeds that are killing innocent Americans, and to ensure that crime doesn't pay—that those individuals, like the 60 defendants indicted and arrested in this case, are brought to justice."

"DEA is enhancing its efforts to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the most violent drug trafficking organizations across the country under Operation Crystal Shield," said DEA Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery. "By dismantling this sophisticated drug trafficking network, DEA and our law enforcement partners have prevented significant quantities of methamphetamine and numerous firearms from making their way to the streets of San Diego and other neighborhoods throughout the United States. Drug trafficking is a violent crime, that impacts the safety and security of our communities – and the drug and firearm seizures made in this investigation are testament to that."

"The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to preserving the integrity of the mail by ridding the mail of involvement in drug trafficking," said US Postal Inspection Service Acting Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the Los Angeles Division. "This operation clearly shows that by combining our strengths and resources with all the involved agencies which include, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies we can disrupt their drug trafficking organizations to protect our communities."

Acting U.S. Attorney Grossman 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), the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, and the United States Postal Inspection 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, the San Diego Police Department, the Escondido Police Department, the United States Border Patrol, and the San Diego County Probation Office. Agents and officers from the United States Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, 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.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew J. Sutton, Nicole Bredariol, and Amy B. Wang of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialists Kathleen Jordano and Leticia Adams.

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 Case Number 21cr1559-H

  • (D1) Reyes Espinoza San Ysidro, CA
  • (D2) David Villegas San Diego, CA
  • (D3) John Bomenka  San Diego, CA
  • (D4) Dennis Jones  San Diego, CA
  • (D5) Darren Mosier  San Diego, CA
  • (D6) Frank Tucker  San Diego, CA
  • (D7) Charles Miller  San Diego, CA
  • *(D8) Carlos Espinoza  Tijuana, MX
  • (D9) Mario Espinoza  Tijuana, MX
  • (D10) Jaron Hillyer  San Diego, CA
  • (D11) Kristina Brown  San Diego, CA
  • (D12) Danny Miller  San Diego, CA
  • (D13) Shawn Morrill  San Diego, CA
  • *(D14) Hilleal Grant  San Diego, CA
  • *(D15) Lewis Rich  San Diego, CA
  • (D16) Cameron Graff  San Diego, CA
  • *(D17) Terry Haith  San Diego, CA
  • (D18) Tansy Steinhauer  San Diego, CA
  • *(D19) Jessica Pomeroy San Diego, CA
  • *(D20) Shadow Segura Houston, TX
  • (D21) Jasmine Lucas  San Diego, CA
  • (D22) Philip Abbas  San Diego, CA
  • *(D23) Peter Fuller San Diego, CA
  • (D24) Eduardo Osuna  San Diego, CA
  • (D25) Frank Carrillo San Diego, CA
  • (D26) Stephen Myrick San Diego, CA
  • (D27) Gloria Sandoval San Diego, CA
  • *(D28) Ashley Hilton Houston, TX
  • (D29) Joseph Occhiogrosso Brooklyn, NY
  • (D30) Gary Beasley San Diego, CA
  • *(D31) Arnulfo Rodriguez San Diego, CA
  • (D32) Alexandro Larios-Flores San Diego, CA
  • *(D33) Jose Vargas San Diego, CA
  • (D34) Michael Nagle San Diego, CA
  • *(D35) Raymond Sterling  San Diego, CA
  • (D36) Terry Tyler San Diego, CA
  • (D37) Victor Yamasaki San Diego, CA
  • (D38) Chris Paschke San Diego, CA
  • (D39) Charles Gerardi  Houston, TX
  • (D40) Christian Lopez-Villegas San Ysidro, CA
  • (D41) David Santa Maria San Diego, CA
  • (D42) Melvin Johnson San Diego, CA
  • (D43) Daniel Babuata San Diego, CA
  • *(D44) Garrett Steele San Diego, CA
  • (D45) Vien Trinh San Diego, CA
  • *(D46) Troy Prater San Diego, CA
  • *(D47) Sharon Landhan San Diego, CA
  • (D48) Gabriel Askay San Diego, CA
  • (D49) Patrick Lane San Diego, CA
  • (D50) Kevin Tobin San Diego, CA
  • (D51) James Ellerbe San Diego, CA
  • (D52) Hope Stoneking San Diego, CA
  • (D53) Tasha Almanza San Diego, CA
  • *(D54) Jason Ferguson San Diego, CA
  • (D55) Kelle Ferguson San Diego, CA
  • *(D56) Roger Desroche San Diego, CA
  • (D57) Steven Brandt San Diego, CA
  • (D58) Esteban Gastelum-Sanchez San Diego, CA
  • (D59) Tara Scroggins San Diego, CA
  • (D60) Debbie Hill San Diego, CA

*Fugitives

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine (21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846)
Conspiracy to Launder Monetary Instruments (18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(a)(1) and (h))
Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine (21 U.S.C., § 841(a)(1))
Importation of Methamphetamine (21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and 960)
Felon in Possession of a Firearm (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)

Maximum Penalties: For the drug charges, term of custody including a mandatory minimum 10 years and up to life imprisonment, $10 million fine and a lifetime of supervised release. For money laundering charges, term of custody up to 20 years' imprisonment, a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the monetary instrument or funds involved, and three years of supervised release. For the firearms charges, term of custody up to 10 years imprisonment, and a $250,000 fine.

AGENCIES

  • Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation
  • Drug Enforcement Administration, Narcotics Task Force
  • United States Postal Inspection Service
  • San Diego County Sheriff's Department
  • San Diego Police Department
  • Escondido Police Department
  • United States Border Patrol
  • San Diego County Probation Office
  • United States Marshals Service
  • Homeland Security Investigations
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • San Diego County District Attorney's Office
  • Department of Justice, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces
  • Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations, Electronic Surveillance Unit
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan
  • U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan