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Feds charge 17 connected to San Diego trucking company’s drug trafficking scheme

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Federal authorities have charged 17 people in connection with a scheme to use a San Deigo trucking company’s fleet to smuggle drugs packed into fire extinguishers and concealed in scrap metal loads.

On Wednesday, February 14, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced that seventeen people are facing charges related to drug trafficking and a money laundering conspiracy.

The charges were filed following a two-year investigation called “Operation Smoke Jumpers,” which centered on San Diego-based Carin Trucking, owned by Oscar Ahumada Leyva, 43.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Carin Trucking operated at least six semi trucks that regularly entered the United States from Mexico to deliver suspected narcotics to the Los Angeles area.  

Authorities say that the scheme involved concealing drugs inside fire extinguishers that were disguised as scrap metal.

“Investigators have observed multiple drug transactions involving truck drivers and their semi-trucks. The truck driver would drive into the United States from Mexico, and cross the border usually carrying a load of scrap metal, and concealed inside will be a scrap metal fire extinguisher containing drugs. The truck driver would then make his way up to Los Angeles, to meet a courier, who would pick up the drug packed fire extinguishers for further distribution,” court documents stated.

As part of Operation Smoke Jumpers, law enforcement made 13 drug seizures that yielded approximately 680,992 fentanyl pills, 3 kilograms of fentanyl powder, 17 kilograms of heroin, and 10,418 pills containing methamphetamine.

Authorities have arrested nine people connected to the scheme, including:

  • Leyva, 43, of Mexico
  • Miguel Antonio Rabago Valenzuela, 42, of Mexico
  • Gustavo Rivero Rodriguez, 39, of Mexico
  • Carlos Espinoza, 38, of Alhambra
  • Erick Roque Angeles, 39, of Fontana
  • David Sanchez Balderas, 26, of Denver
  • Fernando Salgado, 36, of Riverside
  • Rocio Guadalupe Acevedo Tonche, 32, of Ontario
  • Efren Quibrera Espinoza, 29, of Cudahy

One of the other defendants was already in state custody.

Seven other defendants remain at large and are believed to be in Mexico.

“These defendants used a sophisticated network to smuggle immense amounts of fentanyl into our country,” said United State Attorney Martin Estrada. “We know that every fentanyl pill can kill, but these defendants did not care about the widespread destruction they were causing. Our office will continue to work intelligently and aggressively to bring international drug-trafficking organizations to justice.”

Agencies assisting the investigation include the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the South Gate Police Department, IRS Criminal Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the California Highway Patrol, the Pasadena Police Department, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Inland Regional Narcotic Enforcement Team, the Alhambra Police Department, the Rialto Police Department, and the Fontana Police Department.

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