Source: US State of California
LOS ANGELES – Authorities this morning arrested five defendants charged in a federal grand jury indictment alleging they took part in a drug trafficking ring that imported pound quantities of cocaine and heroin from Mexico, then used modified BMW “trap cars” to distribute those drugs throughout the United States.
The four-count indictment charges a total of seven defendants with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and alleges a series of acts between December 2017 and July 2018.
In today’s takedown, law enforcement seized approximately 20 kilograms (44.1 pounds) of cocaine, multiple firearms, three trap cars, and equipment for making butane honey oil, which contains a much higher percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than found in traditional marijuana products.
The five defendants arrested today are expected to make their initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Joel Antonio Villegas, a.k.a. “Junior,” 31, of Downey, and William Ariel Moreno, 29, also of Downey, are accused of being the operation’s ringleaders who obtained kilogram quantities of heroin and cocaine from Mexico for U.S. customers. Villegas and Moreno were found in possession of cocaine and guns in their homes at the time of their arrests this morning. Villegas is an alleged drug distributer who obtains drugs from a Mexican supplier and distributes the narcotics from the Los Angeles area to customers throughout the United States, using both trap cars and commercial shipping companies.
According to the indictment, Villegas directed co-conspirators to buy two 2005 BMW X5 automobiles so they could be outfitted with secret compartments to carry narcotics. Villegas allegedly also arranged for the shipment of two crates containing 55 pounds of marijuana and honey oil to Orlando, Florida. He also advised other members of the conspiracy that commercially shipping, rather than mailing, marijuana and honey oil “better ensured that law enforcement would not intercept the packages and seize the drugs,” the indictment alleges.
The two BMWs belonging to the Villegas organization were stopped on the same day in April 2018 at the U.S.-Mexico border, where officers found hidden compartments inside their engine manifolds, containing multiple kilograms of cocaine and heroin, intended for distribution throughout the United States. Last year, law enforcement seized at least $71,000 in cash, along with pound quantities of cocaine and heroin in connection with this organization.
In addition to the conspiracy charge, Villegas and another co-conspirator also are charged with possessing with intent to distribute 13.3 pounds of cocaine. Two other co-defendants have been charged with possessing with intent to distribute 11 pounds of cocaine. Authorities are continuing to search for defendants Milton Ponce, 31, of Paramount, and Jonathan Ortiz, 30, of Downey, who are believed to be fugitives.
If convicted on all counts, the defendants would face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison and mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being investigated by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the California Highway Patrol, the Pasadena Police Department, the South Gate Police Department, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys A. Carley Palmer of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section and Jonathan S. Galatzan of the Asset Forfeiture Section.