DA releases details of drug sting | AspenTimes.com

DA releases details of drug sting

Joel Stonington

Valleywide drug raids this week culminated in the arrests of six suspected cocaine dealers and the seizure of $14,000 worth of cocaine and $64,000 cash.The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team conducted the raids, which also resulted in the arrests of 36 suspected illegal aliens by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson unsealed court documents Thursday detailing events leading up to the arrests.The 10-month investigation netted half a kilogram of cocaine. Though DEA officials described the undercover operation as everyday – the DEA seized more than 130 kilos of cocaine in Colorado in 2005 – agents did say the Roaring Fork Valley has garnered something of a reputation.Aspen is a “poster child community for a lax attitude regulating drugs in general,” said Jeffrey D. Sweetin, the DEA agent in charge of the area covering Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. “It’s unique across the country. When people came out last year to insist undercover not be done, what I said is … ‘We’re going to continue to do undercover work in Aspen.'”On Tuesday, authorities arrested the alleged leader of the drug ring, Jose Jesus “Chuy” Sanchez-Ceja, DEA agents suspected Sanchez-Ceja might flee after an unknown woman informed him of the investigation during a tapped conversation.”We are extremely fortunate we got [Sanchez-Ceja] when we did,” said Tom Gorman, the DEA agent in charge of the investigation. “Had our team gotten there five minutes later, it’s unlikely we would have arrested him.” According to the DEA, kingpin Sanchez-Ceja, a 13-year employee and manager of a carwash at the Aspen Business Center, sold cocaine to drivers who allegedly picked up the drugs but never got their cars washed.Only a few days ago, Sanchez-Ceja did not know the carwash had been under surveillance for months, that a homing beacon was on his vehicle, or that the DEA had tapped his and other suspects’ phones, according to police reports. Now Sanchez-Ceja, who refused comment Thursday, is in custody in the Pitkin County Jail on an unusually large bond of $750,000. He is facing four felony drug charges.The DEA originally thought Rascon-Garcia was the leader of the drug-trafficking ring. Rascon-Garcia allegedly used his own landscaping businesses – American Landscape Co. and Rascon Construction – to move drugs, but DEA agents contend that Rascon-Garcia would call the car wash for more “soap” when he was out of cocaine. According to the DEA’s Sweetin, mid-level drug dealers used people who owned reputable businesses to launder money and hide large transactions. “Not everyone buying dope is just a guy going to his basement to get stoned,” Sweetin said. “There are a lot of people making an investment, trying to increase their money.” According to court documents, Robert Ward Thompson, 45, helped Rascon-Garcia secure a job pouring concrete. To pay him off, Rascon-Garcia allegedly left Thompson a sizable amount of cocaine. Another landscaper, Robert Alan Jackson, 36, allegedly used his business, Terrascape, to open “dirty” accounts to conceal drug transactions.As the case tightened on the drug ring, court documents state, police officers began stopping suspected dealers on traffic violations after hearing about buys on the tapped phone lines and witnessing alleged drug purchases from Sanchez-Ceja at the car wash.Glenwood Springs police pulled over Rascon-Garcia and found $20,000 in cash after he agreed to a search, according to the court documents. A K-9 unit did not find cocaine that the suspect later told a friend he had “stuffed … by his balls,” the documents stated.The court documents released Thursday named roughly a dozen more people suspected of involvement in related illicit activities, including gun and drug sales and stealing cars. Gorman said they were not arrested, though, because once the word got out that Sanchez-Ceja had been arrested, a number of suspects began to disappear.Arrested Jose Jesus Sanchez-Ceja, 63 Ivan Dizan Rascon-Garcia, 32 Robert Ward Thompson, 45 Robert Alan Jackson, 36 Kristie Goodhard, 48The 10-month investigation also resulted in the Aug. 22 arest of Jose de Jesus Fletes-Rodriguez on drug charges.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com