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$3.5 Million Seized in Cash and Drugs at Truck Yard Near San Diego

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents seized more than $3.5 million in cash and drugs from the Sinaloa Cartel in a recent sting operation involving agents from several federal agencies.

Three Mexican nationals from the Cartel were charged Nov. 24 in federal court for their involvement in what is believed to be the largest seizure of cash, drugs, and ammunition in this district. The seizure included 680 kilograms of cocaine, 24 kilograms of fentanyl, about 20,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition, and dozens of body armor vests at a truck yard in Otay Mesa, which is in San Diego.

The truck yard was put under surveillance on Nov. 20, and local police performed traffic stops on three departing tractor-trailers. That is where some of the contraband was discovered.

The trucking facility’s search found millions of dollars, most of it wrapped carefully in plastic and covered in axle grease. The drugs were located in the garage, while the ammunition and body armor were in one of the tractor-trailers.

Three Cartel Members Charged With Drug Trafficking Conspiracy

Jesus Burgos Arias, Juan Alatorre Venegas, and Jose Yee Perez were arrested by federal agents on Nov. 20 after a long term investigation involving Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, targeting members of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The accused were charged with drug trafficking conspiracy in a criminal complaint filed in a federal court.

One part of the investigation led federal agents to two brothers who were fingered as high-ranking Cartel members who own several Mexican trucking companies to move cocaine from Sinaloa, Mexico into the United States.

The three men arrested in this investigation are accused of working for brothers Jore Valenzuela and Gabriel Valenzuela. On Oct. 15, federal agents saw the two brothers at a Long Beach, California airport, getting ready to board a private plane with several large suitcases. However, the pilot inspected one of the bags and found bricks of drugs covered in plastic wrap.

Five-Year Investigation Has Netted More Than 125 Drug Traffickers

The federal drug trafficking case is part of an investigation by the Southern District of California that has lasted five years. The case has resulted in federal charges against 125 individuals and has put a significant dent in the Sinaloa Cartel operations worldwide.

The federal investigation has offered one of the most wide-ranging views to date of how the Sinaloa Cartel operates, one of the most violent and powerful drug gangs globally. The Cartel once was run by the vicious Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, who is now serving a life sentence in federal prison on drug trafficking and murder convictions.

Cartel members and its associates in this federal investigation involved several countries, many law enforcement departments across the US, several federal districts, and at least 250 court-ordered wiretaps in this district in southern California.

US Attorney Praises Results of Joint Investigative Efforts

US Attorney Robert Brewer praised the historic seizure and prosecution in this drug trafficking investigation spanning several years. He said the eliminate the severe drug and violence threat to San Diego, they will continue to go after the Cartel’s drug smuggling, arms smuggling, and money laundering operations.

By doing this work, the US and Mexican governments are depriving the Cartel of millions of dollars of illegal goods, profits, and their safe haven.

Federal authorities were also encouraged to successfully seize thousands of rounds of dangerous .50 caliber ammunition and $3 million in drug money that they have obtained by ‘selling death’ in San Diego and across the US.

Homeland Security officials noted the cash, drug, and ammo seizure was a big deal, not just because of the size. It also shows the connection between drugs, money, and guns that leads to violence across the country and ends lives.

Federal Investigation Began in 2011

The federal investigation started in late 2011 as a probe of what was thought to be a small drug distribution operation in Chula Vista and National City. It became clear that most of the drugs in the region were supplied by the dangerous Sinaloa Cartel. The case eventually grew into a vast, multinational, and multistate investigation that led to dozens of arrests and seizures that include:

  • 1,397 kilograms of methamphetamine
  • 2,214 kilograms of cocaine
  • 17 tons of marijuana
  • 96 kilograms of heroin
  • $27.8 million in drug proceeds

If convicted on the drug trafficking charges, the three men face decades in federal prison.

References

ICE Federal Agents Seize $35 Million in Cash and Drugs. Accessed at https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-federal-agents-seize-35-million-cash-and-drugs-truck-yard-otay-mesa

DEA Seized $35 Million in Cash, Ammo, and Drugs. Accessed at https://www.latinpost.com/articles/148521/20201126/dea-seized-35-million-cash-ammo-drugs-suspected-mexican-cartel.htm