RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A dozen alleged members of a drug smuggling network that shipped large amounts of methamphetamine into the Inland Empire from Mexico were arrested on federal charges.
Timoteo Gomez, 48, and Javier "Harvey" Rodriguez, 54, both of Riverside and allegedly part of the smuggling operation's upper echelon, were taken into custody along with 10 of their reputed confederates.
They're slated to make initial appearances at U.S. District Court in both Riverside and Los Angeles this afternoon on a single count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, detailed in a grand jury indictment returned on May 5.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, law enforcement seized more than 150 pounds of meth and $31,035 in cash during the takedown operation targeting the defendants, some of whom, authorities allege, are members of a Riverside gang with ties to the Mexican Mafia.
"These groups are trying to profit from the sale of poison in our communities,'' U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Curt Fallin said during a news briefing at the Riverside Police Department's Magnolia station. "People get hurt. That's why we target street gangs, their affiliates and anyone who supplies these drugs.''
Riverside police Chief Larry Gonzalez said the meth pouring in from south of the border is one of the factors contributing to a major surge in violent crime over the last 18 months.
"We're taking more guns off the street than I've ever seen,'' the chief said. "Officers on patrol are making drug busts that would've won an award when I was working as a patrolman. They're seizing a pound of meth during traffic stops. It's not unusual. Dope is through the roof in terms of what
we're taking off the streets. There's more violence associated with drug abuse.''
Gonzalez blamed much of the dramatic rise on the fact that "thousands of people who should be incarcerated aren't incarcerated right now.''
"A lot of people aren't going to jail for some of the things they used to go to jail for,'' he said.
Undersheriff Dennis Vrooman agreed that "violent crime has gone up in the last year and a half."
"With our inability to get things done locally, we look to our federal partners to help us protect our communities,'' he said.
A total 21 individuals have been federally indicted in connection with the smuggling network, though four remain at large, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Several others were arrested in April.
From April to August 2020, Gomez and Rodriguez allegedly purchased meth from suppliers in Mexico for distribution in the Inland Empire and Los Angeles, investigators said.
They allegedly smuggled nearly 50 pounds of meth in April 2020 from Mexico across the U.S port of entry at Calexico and into Riverside County. The following month, another co-conspirator attempted to drive a load containing about 90 pounds of methamphetamine through the San Ysidro port of entry, according to federal prosecutors.
During the news briefing, authorities described how the operation functions, noting that smugglers often "flood'' the border, sending multiple vehicles laden with illegal drugs through checkpoints, fully realizing that some of the cars will be stopped and searched. Most of the meth interdicted in
the current operation was stuffed inside hidden compartments in vehicles, investigators said.
"Gang members are perpetuating this in our communities,'' Vrooman said.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the Los Angeles Office Kristi Johnson labeled the seizures involving the 21 alleged conspirators as "particularly significant.''
Along with meth, fentanyl was seized. The county has been ramping up efforts to shut off the fentanyl pipeline because of the synthetic drug's lethality in small doses.
"We are not stopping," Johnson said. "We will keep doing these (operations) and continue to investigate these matters.''
In addition to distribution of meth, the indictment alleges some of the defendants also possessed fentanyl for sale, were in illegal possession of ammunition and attempted to conduct international money laundering. If convicted, the defendants could face anywhere from 10 years to life in federal prison.