20 indicted for heroin trafficking conspiracy following joint investigation
The United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California has indicted 20 persons for heroin distribution and sales following a 10-month joint investigation with the Redlands Police Department, members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department narcotics unit and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
As part of this investigation, a total of 15 people have been taken into custody since Feb. 28, including three arrested since Friday. The investigation is continuing as police attempt to locate and take into custody the remaining suspects.
Over the course of this 10-month investigation, members of the joint Street Enforcement Team identified the 20 defendants as members of a heroin "cell," dealing more than half a kilo a week of Mexican "tar" heroin in the East Valley portions of San Bernardino County, including Redlands, Yucaipa, and Highland.
The investigation was launched in June 2011 after Redlands police noted a growing number of heroin-related arrests and overdoses in 2010 and early 2011. Since August 2010, 11 residents of Redlands and the surrounding communities between the ages of 18 and 26 have died as a result of heroin overdose.
The Task Force, which included members of the Redlands Police narcotics unit, deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, special agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Assistant United States Attorneys from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California and a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Criminal Intelligence Specialist from California Department of Justice worked together to target heroin trafficking and street dealing in the area.
According to investigators, the local organization is connected to drug suppliers in Mexico with each local cell of the organization operating as a pyramid including a local supplier, "runners" and street level dealers trafficking in heroin to local users.
The federal indictments charge 20 members of the conspiracy with violating 21 U.S.C. § 846: Conspiracy to Distribute Heroin and 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), (b)(1)(C): Possession With Intent and Distribution of Heroin. These charges carry a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison for those members without any prior drug felonies. For those members of the conspiracy with prior drug felonies, these charges carry a maximum term of life imprisonment.
"In this operation, federal and local resources have been seamlessly integrated in order to put heroin traffickers in the Inland Empire out of business," said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr., whose office is handling the prosecution of the case. “We want the public in San Bernardino County to know that the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration are committed to working with our local partners, at both the city and county level, to dismantle the criminal organizations that threaten their well-being and to insure their safety.”
The individuals named in the federal indictment are: Salvador Gonzalez-Chavez, age 29, Fontana; Jose Perez Hernandez, age 27, San Bernardino; John James Flores, age 63, Redlands; Victor Hugo Padron Mendez, age 35, Rialto; Luz Maria Medina-Nieves, age 29, Fontana; Jimmy Nieves, age 27, Fontana; Luz Myriam Nieves-Cruz, age 49, Fontana; Angela Aragonez, age 45, Redlands; Peter Francisco Flores, age 29, Redlands; Daniel Martinez, age 57, Redlands; Steven Kelly Olalia, age 37, Redlands; Fabian Jose-Maria Villanueva, age 27, San Bernardino; Alvaro Medina, age 20, Pomona; Mario Sandoval, age 27, Pomona; Lupe Hidalgo-Martinez, age 49, Fontana; Nereida Cynthia Puente, age 41, Hesperia; Fernando Salazar, age 42, El Centro; Roberto Gutierrez, age 57, Cypress; David Reyes-Sandoval, age 52, Redlands; and Irene Arvizu, age 56, San Bernardino.