TUCSON — A multiagency task force that busted up a drug cartel operation on the Tohono O'odham Nation south of Casa Grande was able to obtain convictions on all 18 suspects arrested.
On Nov. 25, the final defendant in United States v. Felix-Ramirez, et al, an 18-defendant indictment alleging activities by a transnational drug trafficking organization, was sentenced to prison by Senior U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson. All defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
Multiple agencies participated in the investigation, dubbed Operation Rocky Top 2, as part of the Native American Targeted Investigation of Violent Enterprises, or NATIVE, Task Force. Operation Rocky Top 2 determined that the drug trafficking organization, which had ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, exploited the remote location and extended U.S.-Mexico border within the Tohono O’Odham Nation.
In order to move large quantities of marijuana from Mexico into the United States, the drug trafficking organization relied heavily on a sophisticated network of mountaintop scouts who used high-powered binoculars, radios and cellular telephones to guide marijuana backpackers around law enforcement agents working in the area.
The drug trafficking organization delivered necessary supplies to the scouts so they could remain in strategic mountaintop locations for extended time periods.
Operation Rocky Top 2 successfully identified and targeted specific scouting locations and those individuals providing support to the scouts. Agents seized approximately 4,358 pounds of marijuana tied to cartel scouts during the investigation.
“This successful operation highlights the importance of our federal law enforcement partnerships and the unique investigative authorities of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI),” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge for HSI Phoenix. “The west desert portion of the border poses various environmental challenges; however, when federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement bands together, we send a clear message to the cartel. You will not operate on the border with impunity.”
U.S. Attorney Michael Bailey said, “This investigation exemplifies the value of interagency cooperation and cooperation between federal and tribal authorities. The combined resources and expertise of the agencies involved dealt a significant blow to the cartel.”
The investigation in this case was conducted by the NATIVE Task Force and the U.S. Border Patrol Casa Grande Station. The investigation was led by Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Border Patrol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tohono O’odham Police Department. These prosecutions were handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah B. Houston and Adam D. Rossi, District of Arizona, Tucson.
The 18 defendants were sentenced to prison time as follows:
- Jose Angel Felix-Ramirez, 30, of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, was sentenced to 55 months;
- Arnoldo Ojeda-Zavala, 33, of Durango, Mexico, was sentenced to 57 months;
- Matias Garcia-Martinez, 32, of Villa Juarez, Sinaloa, Mexico, was sentenced to 60 months;
- Carlos Erasmo Medina-Amador, 28, of Sonoyta, Sonora, Mexico, was sentenced to 87 months;
- Jesus Francisco Felix-Ramirez, 23, of Tamasura, Durango, Mexico, was sentenced to 50 months;
- Carlos Ivan Nunez-Estrada, 33, of Sonora, Mexico, was sentenced to 60 months;
- Antonio Ramirez-Rios, 40, of Sinaloa, Mexico, was sentenced to 70 months;
- Manuel Esteban Portillo-Avilez, 46, of Chihuahua, Mexico, was sentenced to 60 months;
- Jose Orlando Linares-Sanchez, 26, of San Salvador, El Salvador, was sentenced to 674 days (time served);
- Douglas Mariaga-Munoz, 26, of Cortez, Honduras, was sentenced to 674 days (time served);
- Jose Lorenzo Osorto-Calix, 22, of La Ceiba, Atlantida, Honduras, was sentenced to 674 days (time served);
- Jose Nunez-Estrada, 21, of Tamazula, Durango, Mexico, was sentenced to 65 months;
- David Jimenez-Perez, 22, of Chiapas, Mexico, was sentenced to 20 months;
- Armando Ramirez-Garcia, 34, of Arenitas, Sinaloa, Mexico, was sentenced to 35 months;
- Jose Angel Lozano-Raigoza, 39, of Sonoyta, Sonora, Mexico, was sentenced to 35 months;
- Raynard Joseph Antone, 43, of Pia Oik Village, Arizona, was sentenced to 15 months;
- Adriana Fonseca-Dominguez, 36, of Chihuahua, Mexico, was sentenced to 24 months;
- Edgar Raul Arellano-Garcia, 31, of Chihuahua, Mexico, was sentenced to 87 months.