Undercover drug sting nets 20 in Basalt, El Jebel
August 19, 2009
EAGLE COUNTY – A five-month undercover drug sting by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office ended with the arrests of 20 suspects for allegedly distributing drugs in the Basalt and El Jebel area, according to a detective coordinating the case.
Detective Lt. Mike McWilliam said the operation also proved that cocaine is “plentiful and cheap” in the Roaring Fork Valley. The alleged dealers were selling cocaine for lower amounts than the going rate in the Eagle Valley, which includes Vail and Avon, he said.
The suspects are from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. One suspect is from Aspen; two are from Basalt; four are from El Jebel; seven are from Carbondale; and six are from Glenwood Springs. All face felony drug distribution charges.
Undercover agents and informants acquired the names of the alleged drug dealers, called them on the telephone and arranged to make purchases in the Basalt and El Jebel area, McWilliam said.
“We had some concerned citizens tell us there was a cocaine problem in the Roaring Fork Valley, El Jebel,” McWilliam said. He said it is the largest undercover drug operation in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County during his 22 years with the sheriff’s office.
Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly said, “Our drug task force is trying to hit hard in that area.”
Recommended Stories For You
After making contacts and collecting information for about four months, the undercover officers started making arrests during the last month, McWilliam said. Arrests weren’t made early in the operation because word would have traveled and drug dealing would have ceased.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office was assisted in one capacity or another by the Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Snowmass Village police departments, as well as the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The Avon Police Department, Eagle Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration also rendered aid, according to a press release from the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda said his staff didn’t participate in undercover work but uniformed officers provided security, assisted in arrests and helped transport suspects to jail in Eagle.
The suspects allegedly sold 1.6 pounds of cocaine that was seized over the course of the operation. McWilliam and other detectives estimated that amount has a street value of $25,000 to $30,000, depending on quality and amount sold at one time.
When asked what type of impact the undercover operation will have on drug dealing in Basalt and El Jebel, McWilliam said, “I hope a big one, at least in the short term.” Drug dealers who weren’t netted will be cautious for some time, slowing the flow of cocaine, he said. Eventually, dealers will fill the void, he acknowledged.
The sting netted mostly “street-level dealers” and no one further up the chain of distribution networks, according to McWilliam. The cocaine sold in central Colorado is typically carried from Mexico to the United States by “mules” concealing the drug in their vehicles, he said.
In addition to the 20 people arrested, five suspects are being sought on felony arrest warrants. They are Jose Ramon Estrade-Medina, 26, of Basalt; Claudio Pacheca Bernal, 31, of Basalt; Eutiquio Castillo Hernandez, 25, of Aspen; Jesus Castillo Ortega, 22, of El Jebel; and Armando Esparza, 18, of Basalt.
Two of the arrestees have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the operation, according to McWilliam. They are Jesus Fonseca-Gonzalez, 39, of Aspen; and Basila Alcoser Solano, 31, of El Jebel. They were both released to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, for investigation of whether they are in the country legally, according to the sheriff’s office.
Another five arrestees have posted bond to get out of jail. They are Francisco Calvillo Duran, 24, of Glenwood Springs, who posted $7,500; Brice Enrique Huerta-Lepe, 18, of Carbondale, $50,000 bond; Ricardo Villarreal Olvera, 19, of Carbondale, bond amount unavailable; Francisco Javier Silva, 26, of Glenwood Springs, $50,000 bond; and Juan Sanchez, 21, of Carbondale, bond amount unavailable.
Those in custody are: Alejandro Torres, 19, of Carbondale; Juan Vargas-Membreno, 39, of El Jebel; Reyna Moctezuma, 40, of Glenwood Springs; Carlos Moctezuma-Lopez, 40, of Glenwood Springs; Raul Paez-Hernandez, 31, of Basalt; David Diaz, 24, of Carbondale; Ismael Menelio Lopez, 24, of Carbondale; Carlos Cruz Carpio, 22, of Glenwood Springs; Aldo Ochoa Vargas, 26, of Glenwood Springs; Elmer Eli Membreno, 22, of El Jebel; Agustin Adame Astudillo, 31, of El Jebel; Cesar Daniel Urrutia-Ortega, 27, of Carbondale; and Carlos Henriquez Joya, 21, of Basalt.
Of the 13 suspects still in custody, 12 have ICE “detainers,” meaning that the agency has reason to believe they might be in the country illegally.
No weapons or other drugs were seized as part of the sting. McWilliam said the operation focused on dealers rather than users.