PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Forty-one people have been indicted by a grand jury in a massive Mexican drug smuggling and money laundering operation.
Investigators said hundreds of pounds of meth, heroin and cocaine were brought up from Mexico for distribution around the greater Portland area, worth more than $15 million.
United States Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy J. Williams made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, along with partners from Gresham Police, Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI.
Wednesday alone, Williams said 13 search warrants were executed in the case and 20 people were arrested, on top of another 10 people already in custody.
The Chief of the Gresham Police Department said the investigation began a year ago when confidential informants came forward to a detective, launching a case that only grew in scope and depth.
Investigators said two drug traffickers in Mexico worked closely with two Portland-based cell leaders to run the operation, which included a network of drug dealers, stash houses, couriers, drop phones and a mini-market in SE Portland where drug money was laundered through international wire transfers.
According to court records, the drugs were sold in the Portland area as well as Longview and Kelso.
Investigators said the group’s top bosses are still on the run in Mexico, but two Portland-based leaders – Edgar Omar Quiroz Rodriguez and Gerson Fernando Martinez-Cruz -- are among those behind bars.
Also at the center of the investigation: a southeast market called Tienda Mexicana Gonzalez Inc.
Police said the owners, Jesus Gonzalez Vazquez and Juan Antonio Romo, acted as money launders and wired drug proceeds to Mexico and other areas of the U.S.
Wednesday evening, the closed sign caught some customers off-guard. Some told Fox 12 they would never have imagined anything suspicious at the store.
But one nearby neighbor said she only shopped there once.
“It’s not a place where you would probably go first, if you wanted to go and grab something immediately, even though it’s a convenience store,” said Nicole King. “It was just very dark, very dirty.”
So far, the evidence seized in the case includes $250,000 in cash, 51 guns and more than 100 pounds of drugs.
Williams says this marks one of the largest take-downs of a drug trafficking organization in the history of our state.
“The risks this organization exposed our community to cannot be over-stated,” US Attorney Williams said. “For now, this network no longer operates in the Portland area and it’s largely thanks to [Gresham Police] Chief Sells and the Gresham Police Department.”
Investigators say many of these criminals will now be facing lengthy prison sentences that may include life.
Some high-ranking leaders of this operation are still on the run and are considered fugitives who are believed to be in Mexico. Investigators are working to track them down as the case moves forward.
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