Federal prosecutors unveiled indictments Thursday against 57 members of an alleged drug trafficking ring that authorities said smuggled cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico to Los Angeles, using concealed compartments and PVC piping.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested 18 of the alleged traffickers, whose drug distribution network stretched from the Mexican border to truck yards in Wilmington and South Gate and suburban homes in Sun Valley and Sylmar.
During the course of an investigation that started in early 2011, authorities seized more than 2,400 pounds of methamphetamine, 30 kilograms of cocaine, 16 kilos of white heroin, 20 kilos of brown heroin and more than $1.2 million in cash from suspected narcotics transactions.
They also recovered 18 firearms.
"The allegations here describe a wide-ranging conspiracy to exploit aspects of our nation's trucking and transportation system and funnel enormous amounts of dangerous narcotics into this country," U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said.
The investigation initially focused on an alleged drug-trafficking organization run by the Mexico-based Miguel Angel Molinero-Castro. The Molinero organization used truck yards in South Gate and Wilmington to receive large quantities of controlled substances hidden in PVC pipes that were further concealed in tractor trailer axles.
Some members of the ring are charged in one indictment with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, maintaining drug-involved premises, possession to distribute controlled substances and distribution of methamphetamine.
Federal agents tracked the suspects' coded telephone conversations as the network sought to smuggle large stashes of illegal drugs over the border to Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, according to federal indictments made public Thursday.
In one operation, a group led by Juan Ramon Carmargo Valdez, a.k.a. The Bishop, used and leased a South Gate truck yard on Firestone Place earlier this year to smuggle shipments of methamphetamine.
The group also allegedly used another Wilmington truck yard where federal prosecutors say PVC pipe filled with drugs would be unloaded into cars and delivered to homes associated with the organization.
Investigators described how on May 7 the group used a Toyota Camry to transport meth hidden in 30 PVC pipes to a Sylmar home.
Federal prosecutors alleged the South Gate truck yard was leased for "distributing controlled substances."
In a second indictment, dated Aug. 6, prosecutors allege the organization also distributed heroin hidden in PVC piping concealed under lumber carried by trucks.
In that indictment, the group was overseen by Jaime Rio-Gonzalez, a defendant known as El Ingeniero, or The Engineer. During phone conversations, the group discussed a shipment of cocaine valued at $27,500 per kilo that was delivered inside the trunk of a car to a Sun Valley home.
Rio-Gonzalez allegedly arranged for a driver to take a car and pick up heroin in Otay Mesa near San Diego last November. But the driver was detained on the return trip and kilos of heroin found in a concealed compartment.