Iowa law enforcement seizes over $2 million in illegal drugs

21 indicted in national narcotics ring.

Posted: Jan 22, 2020 12:42 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2020 12:48 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa – Law enforcement in Iowa has dealt a major blow to a southern California drug operation.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says 21 high-ranking members of the Jesse Sanchez drug trafficking organization have been arrested and agents in Iowa seized more than 200 pounds of methamphetamine, 50,000 fentanyl pills, and 10 kilograms of heroin estimated at more than $2 million. $425,000 in drug profits and assets were also seized over a two year period.

“This complex, multi-jurisdictional investigation involved hundreds of man hours and had organizational ties to multiple federal and state investigations,” says DEA Omaha Division Special Agent in Charge Richard Salter Jr. “This case is yet another outstanding example of DEA’s networking capabilities with local, state and federal law enforcement partners throughout the U.S.”

The investigation involved DEA agents in the Des Moines Resident Office, the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.

Federal authorities say “Operation Despacito” started in April 2017 and tracked an Iowa-based distribution cell known for methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and cocaine trafficking. Investigators say they identified a network that utilized subterranean tunnels, passenger vehicles and the U.S. postal service to smuggle and transport thousands of pounds of illegal drugs into and throughout the United States, including Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and North Carolina.

U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum of the Southern District of Iowa says the last defendants of the conspiracy were indicted on January 14. They have received combined sentences totaling 218 years in federal prison and of the 21 defendants, nine multi-pound methamphetamine suppliers are residents of Iowa, while nine California residents supplied the drugs to Iowa. Three co-conspirators are from Nevada.

“Make no mistake, Iowa is a target for drug cartels who are pumping hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine into our communities,” says Krickbaum. “We will find these drug traffickers and put them in federal prison. The United States Attorney’s Office is grateful to our partners in law enforcement for their tireless work to protect Iowans from these criminal organizations.”

In addition to the drugs, agents seized three assault rifles, multiple stolen handguns and a stolen U.S. Marine Corps firearm suppressor within Des Moines city limits.

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