Federal Task Force Announces Utah’s Largest Drug Bust In Past Year
SALT LAKE CITY — Federal agents and several local law enforcement agencies confiscated more than 400 pounds of illegal drugs and took more than two dozen drug dealers into custody following a nine-month investigation in Salt Lake County.
The US Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake on Tuesday announced the largest drug bust in Utah in the past year, indicting mid-level drug dealers who distributed dangerous drugs in Utah neighborhoods.
Law enforcement partners said they believe it will make a significant dent in drug dealing.
The special agent in charge of the Salt Lake Drug Enforcement Agency said more than 420 pounds of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and illegal firearms were swept in the bust.
“I think it’s huge because it sends a message to Mexico,” said Jay Tinkler, special agent in charge of the Salt Lake DEA.
The investigation of the local, very violent Norteños gang started last September: a partnership between the Drug Enforcement Agency; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Unified Police Department Metro Gang Unit; the IRS and the US Marshal Service.
“It literally started with a $50 drug deal on the street, and through the hard work and dedication of all of our partners, grown into the case that you see today,” said Tinkler.
Last Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted 27 defendants on 34 counts of drug charges.
Agents estimated the gang dealt $1 million worth of meth over the past year.
According to Andrea Martinez, the acting US Attorney for the District of Utah, they smuggled the drugs from Mexico and re-distributed them from Salt Lake City throughout the state.
“Just think about that — how much drugs they prevented from our streets, with the amount of overdoses in this state,” said Sheriff Rosie Rivera with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. “Think about how many drugs are off the street and how many lives are going to be saved.”
They said meth was currently the biggest drug problem in Utah, despite the opioid epidemic.
“That, by far, is the largest narcotic being trafficked right now,” said Tinkler. “It’s just because of mass production in Mexico — the purity is very high, the price is very low.”
Meth never went away, although the agent said it is no longer produced in our neighborhoods as it was two decades ago.
“The Mexican cartels see an opportunity, and they’ve jumped on that opportunity, and they’ve got super labs down in Mexico and that’s where these things are produced,” said Tinkler.
The partnering agencies said the takedown made a dent Tuesday, but they recognized new dealers would arrive with more drugs, creating more violence.
“There’s more violent crime tied to meth than there is any other narcotic,” said Tinkler.
From the US Attorney’s Office:
The largest indictment returned on Wednesday charges 27 individuals with 34 federal counts, including continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl, conspiracy to launder money, along with several distribution and possession with intent to distribute narcotics charges, and several additional firearms charges.
Those charged in the indictment were:
- Luis Cuna-Vigil, 35, of Rosarito, Mexico
- Jesus Avila-Garcia, 46, of Salt Lake City
- Joe Robert Rael, aka “Jojo,” 52, of Salt Lake City
- Jerry Philip Vigil, aka “Nino,”47, of Bountiful
- Jennifer Lopez-Lopez, 20, of San Marcos, California
- Maria Isla-Avila, aka “Sky,” 22, of Escondido, California
- Martin Verduzco-Muro, aka “Lalo,” 28, of Bountiful
- Edward David Lucero, 54, of Sandy
- Linda Hernandez-Alvarez, 34, of Salt Lake City
- Brian Michael Fioravanti, 34, of Salt Lake City
- Jeffrey Kraig Ellis, 60, of West Valley City
- Patrice Raelynn Estes, 49, of Salt Lake City
- Leandro Cortez Ochoa Lovato-Howells, 40, of Salt Lake City
- Mario Alberto Lovato, aka “Grump,” 40, of Salt Lake City
- Joseph Raymond Trujillo, aka “Qujo,” 31, of West Valley City
- Celina Alexandra Garcia, “Baby G,” 26, of Salt Lake City
- Pete Vince Espinoza, 37, of Salt Lake City
- Judy Ann Maestas, 30, of Salt Lake City
- Felicia Nicole Mingura, aka “Fela,” 34, of Salt Lake City
- Erika Rachelle Vigil, 30, of West Valley City
- Jessica LeAnn Vigil, 30, of Sandy
- Anthony James Runion, aka “Lil Ace,” 19, of Salt Lake City
- Richard Lawrence Trujillo, 32, of Salt Lake City
- Brandon Jay Perrault, aka “Trip,” 42, of Salt Lake City
- Pedro Jurado, 56, of Midvale
- Kyle Jimenez-Cuna, 18, of Bountiful
The grand jury previously returned five indictments for defendants relating to this operation. Included in those additional five indictments were:
- Linda Rose Garcia, 33, of Salt Lake City, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm
- Joseph Paul House, aka “Chino,” 36, of Taylorsville, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm
- Victor Jurado, 34, of Salt Lake City, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm
- Daniel Maestas, 48, of Salt Lake City, charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute
- David Soto-Acosta, aka “Droops,” 26, of Salt Lake City, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm
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