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Feds tap into Blackberry Messenger to shut down alleged drug ring

Intercepting communications sent through Blackberry Messenger, an L.A.-based drug task force uncovered an Inland Empire organization that allegedly distributed cocaine across the U.S. and into Europe.

Authorities made three arrests in the case Wednesday as federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment naming nine people in the alleged scheme to distribute cocaine to Italy and in the U.S., as well as methamphetamine domestically.

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Prosecutors said the task force’s “Operation Family Guy” targeted a drug trafficking organization allegedly overseen by brothers Milton Urena and Rafael Urena.

Rafael Urena, 27, of Rancho Cucamonga, was among those arrested Wednesday by federal agents, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and Whittier police. Milton Urena, 30, who lives in the Dominican Republic, remains a fugitive.

A federal grand jury issued a seven-count indictment April 24, resulting in the seizure of about 40 kilograms of cocaine allegedly being smuggled into Italy from the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

According to court documents, agents using undercover operatives and wiretaps intercepted phone calls, text messages and BlackBerry Messenger instant messages sent Urena family members.

Prosecutors allege cocaine was smuggled by drug couriers recruited by the two Urena brothers.

Laundered drug proceeds from the Dominican Republic were sent via Western Union wire transfers to Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, prosecutors say.

Among others indicted in the case, Daniel Alejandro Agredano Vazquez, 22, of the Dominican Republic, is accused of overseeing the distribution of cocaine from the Dominican Republic to Italy and conspiring to launder drug proceeds. He remains a fugitive.

Leonel Urena-Partida, 49, of Guadalajara, Mexico, an uncle of the Urena brothers, who allegedly conspired to transport cocaine to Italy, also remains a fugitive.

Francisco Javier Vargas-Oseguera, 51, another uncle of the Urena brothers, is in federal custody in Seattle. He has been charged there in an unrelated case alleging methamphetamine possession.

Carmen Garcia, 35, of San Bernardino accused of supplying methamphetamine and assisting with the recruitment of drug couriers, was arrested Wednesday.

One of the alleged drug couriers was identified as Eliseo Carrillo Duarte, 45, of Montebello, who is in federal custody in Indianapolis after being arrested there in March on unrelated drug-trafficking charges. She was caught with 10 pounds of methamphetamine, prosecutors said.

The other alleged courier was Beth Rene Ford, 26, formerly of Ontario and now living in the Denver area. Federal authorities said they expected her to surrender soon.

Of those indicted, all but Duarte are charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine to Italy, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

In addition, six of them face charges of conspiracy involving the domestic distribution of cocaine and methamphetamine. That charge also carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

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Twitter: @lacrimes| Google+
richard.winton@latimes.com


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