Feds: California suspects used ‘call centers’ to sell heroin from Mexico in Orange County

Two Southern California call centers that facilitated illegal drug deliveries distributed at least $2 million worth of heroin before a federal grand jury indicted 19 people in connection with the scheme, authorities said Tuesday.

The 13-count federal indictment charges the defendants with offenses tied to narcotics and money laundering. Twelve of them are in custody and expected to be arraigned in federal court in Santa Ana on Tuesday.  The remaining seven are being sought.

Authorities say the suspects operated a heroin ring between March 2017 and this April in Orange County by obtaining the drugs from suppliers in the U.S. and Mexico. Drug mules brought the heroin, sometimes concealed in their bodies, to Southern California.

Two brothers, Julio Cesar Martinez and Victor Martinez, organized the call centers and used two other defendants, Maricela Guerrero and Marla Portillo Cordova, to run the call centers and organize deliveries, according to the indictment.

At one point, a defendant didn’t mention that one of the call centers was closing early, even though more heroin was needed that day for customers.

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The suspects also are accused of depositing the money in different bank accounts to avoid federal reporting requirements, an offense that dates to 2013, officials said.

Several other defendants were involved in delivering the narcotic to buyers and collecting money in exchange for a cut of the profits or heroin, the indictment alleged.

Martinez allegedly obtained the heroin from Roberto Romero Sanchez in Mexico and Victor Romero in the United States. The conspiracy allegedly involved couriers to sneak the drug from Mexico to Orange County.

The defendants are:

  • Julio Cesar Martinez;
  • Victor Martinez;
  • Victor Romero Jr.;
  • Martin Cervantes Romero;
  • Roberto Romero Sanchez;
  • Violeta Romero;
  • Maricela Guerrero;
  • Marla Portillo Cordova;
  • Daniel Zapien;
  • Erik Bright;
  • Megan Ellis;
  • Victor Moreta;
  • Shannon Jacobi;
  • Hunter Sanders;
  • Jose Cervantes;
  • Alicia Carillo Gonzalez;
  • Angel Cervantes;
  • Francisco Serrano and;
  • Alicia Cervantes.

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The Associated Press and CNS contributed to this report.