36 indicted in huge drug sting
In a sweeping investigation by local and federal law enforcement with suspects moving between destinations such as Southern California and Atlanta, a grand jury indictment accuses 36 people of various roles in an alleged drug organization that was selling pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine in Mesa County and being supplied by a source in Mexico.
The organization, accused of crimes dating back to December in Mesa and Garfield counties, was brought down by surveillance including court-authorized wiretaps, clandestine “pole cameras” and confidential police informants, according to a 47-page indictment obtained Wednesday by The Daily Sentinel.
Officers from several agencies, including the Western Colorado Drug Task Force and Drug Enforcement Administration, spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday arresting the alleged top members in the group. An unknown number of individuals were still wanted late Wednesday.
Mesa County’s standing 2013 grand jury returned the indictment on April 16.
The alleged kingpin, Francisco Peralta-Cabral, 44, of Meeker, was arrested late Tuesday and is being held on a $1 million, cash-only bond at the Mesa County Jail.
He was indicted on two counts of racketeering in violation of Colorado’s Organized Crime Control Act, two counts of possession with intent to distribute more than 1 kilogram of a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance and two counts of conspiracy.
His head bowed in court Wednesday, Peralta-Cabral said little as a Spanish-language translator read the charges.
Drugs sold, broken up, resold
According to the indictment, Peralta-Cabral or “Pancho;” Jose Zepeda-Osuna, 34, of Rifle, who was also known as “Primo” or “Primito;” and a third suspect, Brisia Jasso-Diaz, arranged for the purchase of meth or cocaine and imported it into the United States through an individual known only as “Cain” in Mexico.
“These shipments would usually involve going elsewhere (from Mesa County) to meet the courier ...,” the indictment reads.
Drugs were sold to at least seven people, who would then sell pound quantities to a network of dealers who broke up the product and re-sold it yet again, according to the indictment.
“These arrangements and formation of the conspiracy often took place in Mesa County, resulted in the drugs being transported through Mesa County, or resulted in the distribution of drugs inside Mesa County,” the indictment reads.
Jasso-Diaz wasn’t listed among those indicted in the group.
Mesa County prosecutors and law enforcement on Wednesday declined comment on a host of issues in the case because records were still filed under seal.
Booking photos were expected to be released today, while authorities also were expected to discuss the investigation at a news conference today.
The 36-person drug bust was thought to be the largest in Mesa County since 2006, when dozens were jailed and later imprisoned after being linked to a group headed by 52-year-old Stephen Parsons of Grand Junction. Parsons is serving a 24-year prison sentence for what Chief District Judge David Bottger in 2007 called “the largest drug organization I’ve ever seen in Mesa County.”
‘Salsa’ and ‘chickens’
While the start of the investigation isn’t spelled out, the indictment alleges criminal activity dating back to Dec. 15.
On that day, Zepeda-Osuna and an “unnamed co-conspirator” drove to Glendale, Calif., purchased meth or cocaine with several thousands of dollars and returned to an address in Rifle “for distribution in Mesa County, Colorado,” the indictment alleges.
Five days later, Zepeda-Osuna and another unnamed person drove to El Tapatio Restaurant, 1145 North Ave., where they gave the restaurant’s manager six kilogram packages of meth or cocaine, equal to 13 pounds, in exchange for two bags of cash, the indictment said.
The El Tapatio manager was described in the document as “name unknown.”
The indictment outlines alleged drug sales at 1189 22 Road and 403 Jurassic Ave. Authorities learned more about the organization on Jan. 30 when an alleged member of the group was arrested in Colby, Kan., transporting five pounds of meth.
The arrested individual, Jose Martinez, told law enforcement that he’d earlier met with Peralta-Cabral and Zepeda-Osuna at 349 S. Ninth St. in Rifle, where Zepeda-Osuna lived. A pole camera placed near the residence — a small video recording system used by law enforcement — confirmed the two suspects were at the address when Martinez said they were.
Wiretaps picked up the rest.
“Prior to them leaving, Zepeda-Osuna contacts (Leonel) Gonzalez-Gonzalez by telephone to tell him that they are all headed to Atlanta together,” the indictment said. “It is known from arrangements in April made by Peralta-Cabral that he is the person in charge of organizing the trips to Atlanta.”
The numerous wiretap conversations include suspected telephone code for drug deals. People are heard talking about distributing “1/2 notebook,” believed to be a half pound of meth. “Salsa” was also suspected code for meth.
On March 11, “Peralta-Cabral asked if Zepeda-Osuna wanted him to bring him a “chicken” (1 pound of methamphetamine or one kilogram of cocaine),” the indictment reads. “Video surveillance observed Peralta-Cabral arriving at 349 S. Ninth St. in Rifle (Zepeda-Osuna’s home), carrying a box large enough to contain either quantity of drugs.”
Drugs hidden in house walls
The indictment suggests the group looked for creative ways to hide their product.
A local Realtor contacted police on March 13 after suspecting someone had been inside a home without permission. The home was empty and listed for sale.
Later, a man identified in the indictment as Alvaro Carbajal allegedly entered the home through a window.
“He was directed to enter the residence by Leonel Gonzalez-Gonzalez in order to retrieve drugs which were hidden in the wall by Gonzalez-Gonzalez,” the indictment said. “He (Carbajal) was unsuccessful because the officer who took the report found (the drugs).”
The officer found approximately one ounce of cocaine.
The indictment details multiple phone calls intercepted during a March 13 drive to Las Vegas, where a kilogram of cocaine was secured and returned to Zepeda-Osuna’s home in Rifle for distribution. Among other transactions, drugs were sold March 28 in the bathroom of the McDonald’s in Clifton.
In the last deal specified in the indictment, on April 7, Deziree Fisher, 34, is allegedly heard and seen picking up a quantity of meth before she was arrested in a vehicle with another man.
“In the vehicle most of the drugs were found,” the indictment said. “Fisher admitted to possessing them, and later removed approximately a half pound of methamphetamine from her vagina where she had hid it upon being pulled over by law enforcement.”
Probation while dealing
At least two suspects, Ramon Sanchez, 43, and Kerry Rowell, 55, both of Grand Junction, were serving felony or misdemeanor probation in Mesa County on unrelated matters while allegedly working for the organization.
Sanchez will be prosecuted as a habitual criminal and faces a mandatory 96-year prison term if convicted, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said during bond arguments. Sanchez is being held on a $500,000 bond.
Rowell, meanwhile, is allegedly heard on some 48 intercepted phone calls over two months speaking with the top targets in the investigation, according to the prosecutor.