Agents bust Denver-area drug ring |

Agents bust Denver-area drug ring

P. Solomon Banda
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

GOLDEN, Colo. ” Authorities say they broke up a drug ring that funneled up to 50 kilograms of cocaine a month to Front Range cities, including gated communities in Highlands Ranch and Greeley.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the West Metro Drug Task Force said Monday the cocaine had a street value of about $4 million a month.

A grand jury indicted 34 people. Thirty had been arrested by Monday, and arrest warrants were issued for the others.

Authorities said they seized six kilograms of cocaine, 25 pounds of marijuana, $500,000 in cash and six handguns during an eight-month investigation that ended in April.

Investigators allege the ring imported cocaine from Mexico through Phoenix to Colorado and also bought and sold large amounts of marijuana.

The alleged leaders of the ring face racketeering and other charges. Others face charges including possession, distribution and/or sale of drugs, money laundering and possession of a forged instrument.

Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey, Sheriff Ted Mink and Denver DEA special agent in charge Jeffrey Sweetin identified the leaders of the organization as Martin Vega-Beleta and his girlfriend, Norma Yudith Talabera-Espinoza. In a statement the three said Erick Fernando Chaparro-Franco is accused of being a drug runner.

District Attorney spokeswoman Pam Russell said Vega-Beleta and Talabera-Espinoza lived part-time in Denver but spent most of their time in the Phoenix area. Information Chaparro-Franco was not immediately available.

Authorities said Vega-Beleta, Talabera-Espinoza, Chaparro-Franco and 10 others who were indicted were believed to be illegal immigrants. All three were being held without bail at the Jefferson County jail for the immigration violations.

No phone numbers could be found for either suspect and Russell did not immediately know if they had retained attorneys.

Authorities allege Vega-Beleta traveled back and forth between Denver and Arizona, arranging for large amounts of cocaine and marijuana to be delivered to the metro area.

Others are accused of repackaging the drugs into packets of an ounce or a gram then selling them from homes in Westminster, Wheat Ridge, Thornton, Arvada, Aurora, Denver, Greeley, Highlands Ranch and unincorporated Jefferson County.

Sweetin said the drugs flowed to “affluent gated communities” in Highlands Ranch and northern Colorado.

Some of the drug deals were made in Highlands Ranch restaurant parking lots, authorities said.

“Drugs can be anywhere,” said Mike Turner, a DEA special agent. “The average person may think that this doesn’t happen in places where there are multimillion-dollar homes, that they’re protected in these kind of communities.”

The West Metro Drug Task Force is comprised of six metro-Denver law enforcement agencies and the DEA.