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More than two dozen people have been indicted for their alleged links to an international drug ring in Pittsburgh.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady says the drug pipeline started with Mexican cartels, which sent large quantities of cocaine into the U.S. through California and Arizona. These drugs then ended up on the streets of Pittsburgh.
Operation Tripwire started 2 years ago after the postal service found cocaine hidden in a package.
“This is a major organization that was trafficking hundreds of kilograms of cocaine across the entire country and has direct ties to the Sinaloan Cartel in Mexico,” Brady said.
Investigators say the operation is one of the largest ever undertaken in western Pennsylvania.
The 27 people named in the indictment — including several from the Pittsburgh area — could face 10 years to life in prison, a fine of up to $10,000,000 or both.
Press release from D.O.J.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, September 4, 2020
27 Members of International Cocaine Conspiracy That Trafficked Hundreds
PITTSBURGH, PA – Twenty-seven members of an international drug organization were indicted by a federal grand jury for trafficking significant quantities of cocaine from Mexico into the United States, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today. “Operation Tripwire,” a two-year investigation with international, federal, state and local partners, identified and dismantled the organization’s national network and operations from California and Arizona to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This investigation and prosecution relied on critical partnerships and resources, made available by the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s designation of Allegheny County as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) on September 24, 2018.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our state and local partners to fight Mexican cartels from operating in western Pennsylvania,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. “This investigation dismantled a large-scale drug trafficking pipeline that brought major quantities of cocaine from Mexican cartels, into the United States through California and Arizona, and across the country to the streets of Pittsburgh. ‘Operation Tripwire’ began shortly after Allegheny County’s designation as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, and represents the most significant HIDTA prosecution to date. The HIDTA designation of our largest counties enhances our ability to identify and dismantle international drug trafficking organizations which pose a serious, sustained threat to our communities.”
“Today the DEA District Office in Pittsburgh, the United States Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General, and our other law enforcement counterparts dismantled an international cocaine drug trafficking organization that operated in Los Angeles, Tucson, and Mexico,” said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division. “This case is another example of how essential law enforcement collaboration is in combatting drug trafficking. The DEA is thankful for its partnerships across Western Pennsylvania.”
“We won’t back down, communities need law enforcement to work together as we’ve done in Operation Tripwire,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “We work every day to stop those who bring dangerous drugs and guns into our neighborhoods. We are dedicated to working collaboratively to ensure the safety of communities across Pennsylvania.”
“The function of the Postal Service is to deliver the nation’s mail, not transport illegal drugs into our community for drug traffickers. Special agents with the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General, using advanced analytical tools, are always on the look-out for those who seek to abuse the mail system by sending drug parcels in the mail,” said USPS OIG Special Agent in Charge Kenneth Cleevely of the Eastern Area Field Office. “Drug traffickers should be put on notice that when we identify a suspicious parcel, we will use all of our investigative resources to identify those responsible. We will work with our law enforcement partners to seize drug traffickers’ narcotics and money, and seek to put them in prison. To report drug traffickers abusing the mail, or to report other crimes involving postal employees, contact USPS OIG special agents at www.uspsoig.gov or 888-USPS-OIG.”
The Indictment charges the following individuals with conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, in the Western District of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, from in and around October 2018, and continuing until in and around June 2020:
Jamaal Maragh (a/k/a “Alrick Williams” a/k/a “Frederick Vanlierop”), 38, of Turtle Creek, PA;
Noel Perez Aguilar (a/k/a “Venado”), 48, of Los Angeles, CA;
Juan Carlos Alejandres, 26, of Los Angeles, CA;
Dino Aquiline, 61, of Pittsburgh, PA;
Ramon S. Araiza-Vega, 27, of Rio Rico, AZ;
Jose D. Delosrios Benitez (a/k/a “McQueen”), 30, of Inglewood, CA;
Johnny Bravo, Jr., 32, of Los Angeles, CA;
Lucien Burton, 50, of Los Angeles, CA;
Keith L. Clark, 49, of Pittsburgh, PA;
Antonio Egurrola-Gamboa (a/k/a “Chango”), 32, of Tucson, AZ;
Roberto Egurrola-Vasquez (a/k/a “Gordito”), 32, of Tucson, AZ;
Sherita James, 34, of McKees Rocks, PA;
Howard E. Johnson III, 30, of Pittsburgh, PA;
Alexis A. Perez Lopez, 44, of Los Angeles, CA;
Clayton F. Manning, 43, of Los Angeles, CA;
John W. Montgomery, 32, of Tarentum, PA;
Manuel J. Murrietta, 52, of Nogales, AZ;
Patricia Murrietta, 49, of Nogales, AZ;
Rachel M. Novalesi, 37, of Rochester, PA;
Justo Edgardo Parra Jr., 28, of Nogales, AZ;
Robert E. Reed II, 60, of Verona, PA;
Odean Samuels (a/k/a “Martin ONeil”, a/k/a “Smokey”), 32, of Canoga Park, CA;
Manuel Silvestre, 49, of Los Angeles, CA;
Kevin Thomas Jr., 33, of Pittsburgh, PA;
Steven L. Trent Jr., 50, of Penn Hills, PA;
Darrick Watkins, 50, of Los Angeles, CA; and
Kressmore J. Watson, 33, of Los Angeles, CA.
The Indictment additionally charges Defendant Trent with possessing with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, and with unlawfully possessing a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon, in Western District of Pennsylvania, on or about March 4, 2020. Federal law prohibits a convicted felon from possessing a firearm or ammunition.
The law provides for a maximum total sentence of not less than ten years to a maximum of life imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000,000, or both, as to each charged Defendant. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentences imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history of the defendants.
Assistant United States Attorney Jerome A. Moschetta is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (in Pittsburgh, PA) and the United States Postal Service – Office of Inspector General led the multi-agency investigation that included members of the Drug Enforcement Administration (in Los Angeles, CA; in Tucson, AZ; in New York, NY; in Nashville, TN; at the Special Operations Division; and in Mexico); the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General; the Los Angeles Police Department; the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police; the Allegheny County Police Department; the New Castle Police Department; the Monessen Police Department; and the Pennsylvania State Police.