SAN DIEGO–Indictments were unsealed Tuesday in San Diego federal court charging 43 members of a methamphetamine distribution network tied to the Sinaloa Cartel with federal drug trafficking and money laundering offenses.
During the coordinated takedown that began early this morning, investigators executed over a dozen search warrants and seized approximately 80 pounds of methamphetamine, four firearms, and more than $100,000 in U.S. currency. On Tuesday, 33 of the 43 people are either in federal or state custody. Authorities are continuing to search for 10 defendants.
According to the indictments and other publicly filed court documents, this San Diego based network supplied multi-kilogram quantities of methamphetamine and gamma-hydroxybutyrate to dozens of subdistributors located throughout the United States and the world, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Virginia, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, New York and the United Arab Emirates. 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 online money transfer systems like PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App.
The group operated the drug-trafficking scheme by arranging for the shipment of large quantities of methamphetamine from San Diego to various locations in the United States and internationally, through FedEx and the United States Postal Service. The drug shipments were mailed weekly to various hotels, residences, and Airbnb locations. As part of the scheme, the group also created multiple fraudulent FedEx accounts. The fraudulent FedEx accounts were billed to and paid for by large corporations, in hopes that the large businesses would not notice the illicit packages.
Despite their sophisticated efforts, law enforcement penetrated this network with a variety of investigative techniques, including physical surveillance, obtaining phone records, financial documents tracking warrants on telephones and vehicles and undercover agents. Over the course of the investigation, agents obtained dozens of search warrants and a six-month-long federal wiretap to track the communications and the location of the defendants. In conjunction with the wiretaps, agents ultimately seized approximately 78 pounds of methamphetamine and four firearms tied to the network.
In addition to the indictments, more than a dozen people who worked with this network have been charged in connection with this investigation in multiple jurisdictions across the United States, including by the U.S.
“Today we have completely dismantled this San Diego-based international drug trafficking network with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “I want to congratulate the outstanding federal, state, and local law enforcement cooperation that resulted in this highly successful investigation. Replicating this kind of aggressive law enforcement takedown is critical to breaking the backs of these criminal networks and continuing our efforts against the Sinaloa Cartel.”
“The Sinaloa Cartel relies on members of our communities to distribute their drugs. Because they manipulate our commercial distribution routes to make a buck, our streets are flooded with high purity and low cost methamphetamine,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers. “Without their distribution networks, such as the one dismantled today, cartels would not be able to operate drug businesses that rival Fortune 500 companies and dangerous drugs, like methamphetamine, would be scarce, expensive and of low purity. The operation today will ultimately disrupt the supply chain, diminish profits and make it harder for the Sinaloa Cartel to do business in the United States.”
U.S. Attorney Brewer also praised federal, state, and local law enforcement for the coordinated team effort in the culmination of this investigation. The case was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Narcotics Task Force and the Internal Revenue 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 (SDPD), the Escondido Police Department (EPD), United States Border Patrol, and the San Diego County Probation Office. Agents and officers from the United States Marshals Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, 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. He also thanked our vital foreign law enforcement partners in the United Arab Emirates – the Abu Dhabi Police.