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The drugs flow north, the cash goes south. That is the status quo in the world of international narcotics trafficking, and a massive bust last week proves it's the case locally too. Court documents indicate that Mexican cartels supply heroin, cocaine, and meth to dealers across the Seattle area. More than 40 people were arrested, but some key suspects managed to slip back across the border while the lengthy federal investigation was still underway.
Image via StratFor
A 173-page search warrant affidavit unsealed Friday shows that the investigation began sometime in early 2011. Extensive wiretapping and surveillance uncovered a series of "sub-groups" and "sub-cells" of drug wholesalers and street dealers selling product shipped from Mexico to Seattle via California and Arizona.
The local kingpin is allegedly Alejandro Juarez-Santos. Court documents say he received large drug shipments from a supplier in the central California town of Chowchilla, and then worked with his brothers, cousins, and girlfriend to redistribute the dope (primarily heroin) to customers in south Seattle, Everett, Marysville, Lynnwood, and elsewhere.
Juarez-Santos was reportedly caught on tape talking business in code, referring to heroin as "manitas" (Spanish for little hands, a reference five ounces per hand), cocaine as "vanilla cookies," and pounds of meth as "construction workers." Business was booming. Court documents detail hundreds and hundreds of phone calls made by Juarez-Santos to his pusher clientele, and the groups he supplied are so numerous that DEA agents eventually began giving them nicknames like "David's Cousin sub-group."
On October 1, 2011 DEA agents staked out a storage facility in Everett after they overheard Juarez-Santos planning a meeting with Herminio Silva, the California connect, who was coming into town "heavily loaded." When Silva was stopped on his way back to Chowchilla, a search of his car uncovered $50,000 cash in duct-taped bundles in a hidden compartment. The money was confiscated and Silva was allowed to go free so the investigation could continue. He was eventually caught with 15 pounds of meth in another hidden compartment and arrested.
The catch-and-release strategy didn't always work so smoothly. Alleged co-conspirators Juventino and Gilberto Juarez-Santos were caught with $100,000 cash during a traffic stop in California in 2010. They denied knowing about the money, forfeited it, and were released. They never returned to Seattle, and the search warrant affidavit says "later interception of Alejandro's telephones revealed the pair returned to Mexico, Gilberto directing the group's activities from there." Another Juaraz-Santos lieutenant, Arturo Ramirez-Santos, reportedly headed across the Arizona border to Nogales last December and "he has not been seen since."
The documents describe Juarez-Santos' girlfriend Veronica Ramirez-Diaz as being "responsible for transferring illegal drug proceeds to various associates of members of the Juarez-Santos sub-group in Mexico." In one conversation picked up on the wire, the couple allegedly discussed laundering money by sending it to Mexico via Western Union wire transfer, an arrangement Juarez-Santos thought would work because their cartel partners use Bank Bital, one of Mexico's largest banking companies.
It should come as no surprise that Mexican cartels control the local drug market (the last major drug bust in the region, a 20-pound meth shipment seized in October, was connected to the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, and their allies La Familia), but the recent investigation hints at their methodical, business-like approach. When alleged mid-level dealer Silvestre Santos-Diaz, known by the nickname Tacua, was arrested last week, charging documents say he told DEA agents he came to Seattle as a 16-year-old when, "They brought me here and showed me how to sell drugs."
The documents don't specify who "They" are, and spokespeople for the DEA and U.S. Attorney's Office declined to elaborate on the cryptic confession.
"What we can say is drugs were coming through both Arizona and California and up to the Northwest," says Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the Western Washington U.S. Attorneys Office. "Given nature of the drugs -- heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine -- the narcotics originated south of border."