More than a dozen indicted in drug smuggling conspiracy

More than a dozen people, including local residents and Mexican nationals, were indicted this week in federal court for allegedly conspiring to smuggle methamphetamine and cocaine from Mexico into Washington and Idaho.

"What we were able to do with these arrests was completely dismantle this cell in the Pacific Northwest," said DEA special-agent-in-charge Arnold Moorin at a news conference Thursday.

Besides those arrested and indicted in U.S. District Court, another six face state drug charges or are being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Six more suspects were arrested in Idaho last week and seven customers were arrested locally Thursday.

Those arrested and indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine or methamphetamine, or both, included the accused ringleader of the organization, Bertario Santos-Rojas, 36, of Auburn, and three cousins, all of them brothers: Ignacio Pena-Garcia, 32, Jose Vidal-Barraza, 21, and Antonio Rojas-Perez, who is being held by immigration.

Others arrested include: Maria Baez, 30, Jesus Yordani Moreno Zuarez, 20, Nestor Cruz-Santiago, 22, Baltazar Davila Cervantes, 24, Christian Ruelas-Ortiz, 22, Martin Miguel Velasco, 30, Daniel Roberto Lopez-Lopez, 24, Simon Ruiz Garcia, 37, Maura Meza, 24 and Georgina Fernandez, 22.

Also arrested and indicted was Daryl Shears, 43, of Renton, accused of being one of Rojas' best customers, allegedly buying as many as 15 kilos of cocaine a month.

Felicia Bowen, 36, an Eastside real estate agent, also was among those arrested. Bowen, who had served time in prison, was featured last year in a local publication for her reputed success in going straight.

At one point during the investigation, agents stopped a vehicle leaving Bowen's Renton home, finding a duffel bag holding 15 bricks of suspected cocaine, each block 8 inches long and just as thick. In the passenger seat was Bowen's teenage son and behind the wheel was the boy's friend. Neither of the juveniles was indicted in the federal case.

The yearlong investigation was set off by what was initially a routine event -- the arrest in January 2007 of a petty drug dealer in downtown Seattle, police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.

That dealer provided valuable information, Kerlikowske said.

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan said a series of phone taps authorized by the Federal Wiretap Act were key to making the arrests. Agents were able to listen to hours of conversation between the defendants as they allegedly arranged drug sales and purchases.

"We were getting it from the horse's mouth," Moorin said.

Even so, agents had to interpret the conversations, peppered with code words for cocaine such as "girls," "white cars," "paint" and sometimes "snow."

Authorities allege that customers in the Seattle region would place their orders with some of the defendants, who made arrangements with contacts in Mexico to have the drugs smuggled into the United States, typically hiding the material in vehicles.

One vehicle, a Cadillac Escalade, was stopped by Oregon State Police in November 2007 and seized when a drug-sniffing dog found evidence of narcotics. A search later revealed 31 kilos of cocaine and $11,000 in cash hidden in the vehicle's speakers.

Rojas was a passenger in the vehicle, but not arrested at the time while the investigation continued.

On Sept. 10, authorities allegedly learned through surveillance and phone taps that some of the defendants were arranging to deliver 15 kilos of cocaine to Shears at Bowen's home. Investigators moved in to make the arrests.

But Rojas was not the peak. Federal agents said the Auburn man was very likely working for one of the Mexican drug cartels in Sinaloa, Mexico.

"You don't do this on your own," Moorin said.

In addition to the arrests, investigators seized 50 kilos of cocaine, 30 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly $1 million in cash, 23 vehicles and a boat.

Kerlikowske called it Seattle's largest drug case. The case was investigated jointly by Seattle police, the DEA, the King County Sheriff's Office, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Moorin said the arrests, and others like them in the United States, have been putting pressure on drug cartels operating out of Mexico. Rivalries between criminal organizations are believed to be responsible for a wave of violence that has swept through Mexico in recent months, involving the deaths of those involved in the activity, as well as private citizens, law enforcement officers and journalists.

"This is why there have been 4,000 homicides along the border," Moorin said, gesturing to a display featuring the images of several of those indicted. ... ing26.html