G-Men put brakes on Mexican Express Cocaine Train
PHILADELPHIA, PENN. —A 108-count superseding indictment, unsealed today, charges 37 people as participants in a multi-state heroin trafficking organization with ties to Mexico. The charges, which include conducting a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit money laundering, 62 counts of money laundering, and 43 substantive drug charges, were announced by United States Attorney Zane David Memeger and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge Gary Tuggle. Members of the Laredo Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) are charged with the distribution and attempted distribution of multi-kilogram quantities of heroin in Philadelphia. According to the indictment, since 2008, the Laredo DTO has manufactured and imported heroin from its operation in Mexico and supplied other DTOs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in Camden, New Jersey, in Chicago, Illinois, and elsewhere.
Brothers Antonio and Ismael Laredo, the alleged leaders of the Laredo DTO, are charged with engagement in a continuing criminal enterprise. They allegedly supervised 21 defendants who are charged with participation in a conspiracy to import heroin from Mexico into the United States, and conspiracy to distribute kilogram quantities of heroin manufactured in, and smuggled from, Mexico into the United States. According to the superseding indictment, the Laredo DTO smuggled-in from Mexico approximately 1,000 kilograms of heroin using various concealment techniques including placing kilogram quantities of heroin in car batteries, car bumpers, concealed vehicle traps, and sealed fruit and vegetable cans. Antonio and Ismael Laredo allegedly recruited and hired couriers in the United States to transport and deliver multi-kilogram shipments of heroin, originating in Mexico, to heroin distributors affiliated with the Laredo DTO located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Camden, New Jersey, Chicago, Illinois, Atlanta, Georgia, and New York, New York. Defendant Antonio Marcelo Barragan allegedly served as a Mexican-based supplier of raw opium. Defendant Alejandro Sotelo allegedly served as a stash house operator and distributor of the DTO’s product in Chicago, Illinois, where he arranged trans-shipment of multi-kilogram quantities of heroin to Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York.
It is further alleged that the Laredo DTO supplied street level heroin bagging and packaging operations in Philadelphia; that heroin, in quantities ranging from 15 to 50 kilograms at a time was regularly moved between the Chicago operation and the Philadelphia operation; and that members of the DTO, including the Laredo brothers, used violence, such as assaults and kidnapping, threats of violence, including murder and arson, and firearms to protect the DTO’s product and proceeds and to prevent members from withdrawing from the organization. The indictment alleges that the Laredo DTO supplied multi-kilogram quantities of heroin to other drug traffickers in the Philadelphia area, including the (Christian) Serrano DTO, charged elsewhere, the (Darbin and Gabriel) Vargas DTO, and the Camden, New Jersey based (Confesor) Montalvo organization, among others.
According to the indictment, members of the Laredo DTO would transport heroin shipments by various means, including car and train. In 2012, a courier concealed three kilograms of heroin inside a car battery for transport from Mexico to Philadelphia; another shipment of four kilograms was concealed inside a car speaker box; a shipment of 7.6 kilograms of heroin was concealed in sealed fruit and vegetable cans in Texas, and the couriers were directed to deliver the heroin to defendants Darbin Vargas and Gabriel Vargas, of the Vargas DTO in Philadelphia in September 2012. The indictment alleges that the Laredo brothers arranged for the manufacture and production of car batteries in Mexico containing concealed compartments to hold multiple kilograms of heroin which were then used to surreptitiously import heroin into the United States.
The indictment further alleges that the Laredo brothers had numerous relatives and associates set up “funnel accounts” that were used for the purpose of laundering the proceeds of the drug operation back to Mexico. According to the indictment, using a variety of money laundering techniques, including the use of the funnel accounts, wire transfers of funds, and Western Union money grams, the DTO was able to launder at least $5 million of its heroin proceeds back to Mexico, where the Laredo brothers resided. It was further a part of the conspiracy that the Laredo brothers directed defendant Osmar Flores, doing business as Tri-Country Auto Sales, Inc., in Rockford, Illinois, to collect and deposit large sums of cash representing proceeds of the Laredo DTO’s heroin trafficking sales in the U.S. to the business bank account of Tri Country Auto Sales, Inc. Portions of those funds were allegedly used to purchase multiple vehicles used to transport heroin from Mexico and bulk U.S. currency from the United States to Mexico, in concealed compartments. In addition, defendant Osmar Flores transmitted proceeds of the heroin operation back to the Laredos, both by wire transfers and bulk transfers of cash.
“This indictment and the arrests this morning are a significant victory in our efforts to combat drug trafficking,” said Memeger. “Because of the persistent and collaborative efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies across the country, a major supplier of heroin to the Philadelphia region is out of business.”
“Heroin is the top enforcement priority of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Philadelphia Field Division,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Gary Tuggle. “Dismantling this extremely violent international drug trafficking organization ended the flow of hundreds of kilograms of Mexican based heroin into the Philadelphia region and is a direct result of DEA’s resolve to make our communities safer. This was a cooperative effort with local, state and federal agencies. The flow of Mexican produced heroin into southeast Pennsylvania has been significantly impacted.”
If convicted, the Laredo brothers each face a mandatory sentence of life in prison, tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, as well as a criminal forfeiture judgment to the United States of up to $60 million; most of the remaining drug trafficking defendants face mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years in prison (see attached chart).
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s offices in Philadelphia, PA, Camden, NJ, Mexico City, Mexico, Chicago and Rockford, IL, Newark, NJ, New York, NY, Tyler, TX, Raleigh, NC, Jefferson City and St. Louis, MS, Richmond, VA, and the DEA Special Operations Division; FBI, Philadelphia; U.S. Marshal Service; Homeland Security Investigations in Philadelphia, PA and Richmond, VA; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Philadelphia Police Department; Darby Borough Police Department; SEPTA Transit Police Department; Berks County District Attorney’s Office; Bucks County District Attorney’s Office; in New Jersey: the N.J. Attorney General’s Office, N.J. Parole Board, Cherry Hill Police Department, Delaware River Port Authority Police, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, Camden County Sherriff’s Office; in Illinois: Rockford Police Department, Will County Sheriff’s Department, Skokie Police Department, Aurora Police Department, Oak Lawn Police Department, Addison Police Department, Prospect Heights Police Department, Chicago Police Department, Arlington Heights Police Department, West Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sheriff’s Department, and McHenry County Narcotics Task Force; in Texas: Texas Department of Safety, CID Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Pleasant Police Department; in Missouri: Missouri State Highway Patrol, Audrain County Sheriff’s Department, East Central Drug Task Force; in Virginia: the Mecklenberg County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Virginia State Police; and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina. Assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Virginia. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joseph T. Labrum, III.