Feds: Cocaine ring spanned from L.A. to Aspen
ASPEN – Federal agents believe they have dismantled a major cocaine ring responsible for the transport of 200 kilograms of cocaine from Los Angeles to Aspen over the last 15 years.
Six Aspen-area residents were indicted April 19 by a federal grand jury on cocaine trafficking charges and arrested Thursday, including one who was detained in Dallas.
The grand jury also indicted four men from the Los Angeles area. Three were arrested; the other is considered a fugitive.
The indictments were unsealed Friday and show that three properties located in Pitkin County – 230 Pitkin Mesa Drive, 1459 Juniper Hill Drive and 435 Vine Street – are subject to seizure by the U.S. government. Also subject to seizure are a Toyota Highlander, more than $115,000 in cash, and property located Pasadena, Calif., according to the indictment.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver says the properties are considered “drug-related” holdings. Additionally, federal agents seized $175,614 in cash during the investigation.
“The indictment gives notice to those responsible for those properties that they could be forfeited,” said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.
The Aspen residents arrested were Joan Anastasi, 67, Joseph James Burke, 63, Jack Fellner, 61, Wayne Alan Reid, 65, Peggy Schlauger, 41, and Christopher James Sheehan, 65. Sheehan was picked up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport after he disembarked from a Costa Rica flight. He will be transported to Denver for further proceedings, Dorschner said.
Anastasi, Fellner, Reid and Schlauger were all arrested at their residences, said Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent Jim Schrant, who is based in Grand Junction. Burke was arrested at his place of employment, Schrant said.
Anastasi, Burke, Fellner, Reid and Schlauger spent Thursday night in Garfield County Jail and on Friday were transferred to the U.S. District Court in Denver, where they were advised of cocaine trafficking charges.
Magistrate Judge Boyd Boland set no bond for Reid, whom Dorschner said is “believed to be the ring leader” of the cocaine network. A detention hearing for Reid is set for Wednesday in Denver.
The judge released Anastasi, Burke, Fellner and Schlauger on unsecured bonds of $20,000. They are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Denver’s federal court.
Authorities say that from July 2010 through April 2011, all 10 defendants were involved in the distribution of at least 5 kilograms, or the equivalent of 5,000 grams, of cocaine. A kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds.
“This operation dealt a significant blow to a major drug trafficking organization with potential ties to the violent cartels that have murdered thousands in Mexico,” DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Merrill said in a prepared statement. “These arrests make Aspen and its surrounding communities safer by taking significant amounts of drugs off the street and putting violent criminals behind bars.
“DEA and its partners will continue to attack those drug pushers who threaten our neighborhoods and streets.”
In an interview with The Aspen Times, Merrill noted that the grand jury proceedings in the case began in April. He declined to comment about the April 8 traffic arrest of Reid, which led to cocaine distribution charges in Mesa County.
On that date, Reid was pulled over for going 80 mph in a 75-mph zone on Interstate 70 near the Rabbit Valley exit. After the stop, deputies found a cocaine brick weighing more than 1 kilogram, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
As of Thursday, Reid’s Mesa County case was no longer public record. Merrill said the case has been transferred to federal court, where Reid faces one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine; six counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and aiding and abetting; and two counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine and aiding and abetting.
Anastasi, Burke, Fellner and Sheehan face identical charges: one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 5 kilos or more of cocaine; and one count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine and aiding and abetting.
Schlauger faces one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 5 kilos or more of cocaine.
Convictions could lead to 10 years to life in prison for all six Aspen defendants, along with fines up to $10 million.
The grand jury also indicted Valentin Barrios, 42, Anthony Buchanan, 67, Alfonso Elvao-Allocati, 70, and Jesse Trujillo, 33, all of Los Angeles. Trujillo remained at large as of 6 p.m. Friday.
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