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Nine with ties to Mexican cartel charged
By Theola Labbe'-DeBose
Nine illegal immigrants from Mexico with ties to a violent drug cartel face federal charges after trying to set up a crystal methamphetamine operation in the Washington region, authorities said.
In a morning press conference at D.C. Police headquarters, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the Washington region was an untapped market for the drug commonly known as crystal meth.
The defendants also have ties to "La Familia," an extremely violent Mexican drug cartel that exports drugs to the United States, said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of the Washington office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement . "They won't sell to their own Mexican citizens," Torres said.
The defendants were indicted Monday by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possession with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Authorities seized more than 50 pounds of crystal meth, a notable seizure for the region, Lanier said. The second highest amount seized in the area was about two pounds, she said. The street value of the seizure was estimated at more than $3.5 million.
"It's an open market here. No one has ever come in and taken a stronghold," Lanier said.
Additionally, the drug was not in its usual smaller form, which authorities refer to as "pebbles" but in a larger "icicle" form. "That means that this group is more sophisticated and better organized," Torres said.
The undercover operation began around Nov 15 with D.C. police and expanded to include federal authorities. Officials were sketchy on details, citing the need to protect an ongoing investigation, but said that D.C. Police became aware several weeks ago of the operation to bring crystal meth into Washington. One of the defendants, Esteban Almontes Rodriguez, 25, is a major cocaine and marijuana trafficker in the region, authorities said, likely for La Familia.
The operation spread down the Eastern seaboard and authorities eventually made arrests in Atlanta and Winston-Salem, NC.
In addition to Rodriguez, who most recently was of Temple Hills, the individuals facing charges are: Alberto Garcia Calderon, aka "Flaco" (skinny in Spanish), 36; Alejandro Quintana Cardenas, 25; and Moises Ramirez-Perez, who authorities believe is 19. Those men were arrested in North Carolina, and Calderon is believed to be the leader of the distribution route into Washington and the supplier of drugs for Rodriguez, according to an affidavit supporting the arrest warrants.
Georgia authorities arrested Alfonso Martinez-Cruz, 39; Jesus Bustos-Penaloza, 52; Felipe Alvarado-Ponce, 36; and Sergio Garcia-Virelas, 24. The ninth defendant, Jorge Lnu, is still at large.