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AURORA, Colo. – Police and federal drug enforcement agents raided a market and several houses in the Denver metro area Thursday morning in connection to a multi-million dollar cocaine and methamphetamine ring connected to Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Justice says nine arrests were made by Aurora police and federal agents Thursday, and another person was in custody ahead of the raids. But 17 people total have been indicted in the trafficking ring. The indictment carries 45 total counts and includes two house forfeiture complaints.
Several people were arrested in Aurora; another was arrested in Aspen and another in Breckenridge, a justice department official told Denver7. At least one person was arrested outside of Colorado.
The documents show the raid targeted an operation led by Jose Tapia-Rubio, 58, who allegedly used the El Rancho Market, located in a shopping center at the intersection of E. Mississippi Avenue and S. Chambers Road in Aurora, to distribute the drugs.
The documents show that Tapia-Rubio also utilized his own home on E. Arizona Avenue in Aurora, as well as the home of another man, Rodrigo Mora-Sanchez, to allegedly make more drug and cash deals. A stash house in the 4500 block of S. Pagosa Circle in Aurora was also utilized, according to the documents.
Part of the raids Thursday morning were to serve property forfeiture warrants at both homes because they were involved in federal drug trafficking operations.
The court documents a detailed operation led by Tapia-Rubio that, according to analysis from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network contained within the documents, netted Tapia-Rubio more than $3 million from 2013 through March 2016.
The same documents show Mora-Sanchez made $610,240 over the same time period.
But both men reported yearly wages far below what the court records show they actually made through their alleged drug enterprise.
Aside from Tapia-Rubio and Mora-Sanchez, agents identified and surveilled 11 others involved in the trafficking ring who either allegedly acted as distributors, couriers, or buyers: Juan Carlos Medina-Soberanis, Heberto Mora-Sanchez, Selestino Hernando-Mayo, Erik Parra, Lara Zamora Cruz, Claudia Lisseth Lara, Vilma Zamora, Leopoldo Rodriguez-Padilla, Fredy Paz Herrera, Oscar Eric Mora-Campos, Jose Chica-Orellana (aka Adrian Flores), and Eduardo Jimenez-Sanchez. The documents say others were involved as well.
They also identified two Mexican sources for the meth and cocaine: a person who goes by “Bancholas,” and another who goes by either “FNU LNU” or “UM-9584.”
The total amount of drugs distributed or possessed amounted to at least 5 kilograms of cocaine, 50+ grams of methamphetamine, and at least 500 grams of a substance with traces of methamphetamine.
Agents utilized confidential sources, surveillance, covert cameras, intercepted communications and GPS tracking during the investigation into the ring, documents show.
A confidential informant was used to gain access to Tapia-Rubio, who eventually gave the informant his trust. The informant started buying multiple ounces of cocaine and meth from Tapia-Rubio either at the market or at Tapia-Rubio’s house, according to court documents.
The informant got access to Tapia-Rubio through Medina-Soberanis, according to the documents, who had fled to Mexico after a 2015 drug arrest. The informant would wire Medina-Soberanis money from the market after each deal, federal agents say.
Tapia-Rubio also went to great lengths to stash his drugs at his home, burying them underground, hiding them in pots and in false compartments in vehicles, according to the documents. But when it came time to purchase them at the store, some transactions were made out in the open at a cash register with little warning from the purchaser.
The documents show that the others named all either bought drugs, facilitated deals, or acted as couriers for either drugs or money over the length of the investigation, which spans from at least February 2016 through last December.
While the investigation was ongoing, Colorado State Patrol and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office seized either drugs or money involved in the ring on at least two occasions – in August 2016 and again in November.
The documents show that some of the drugs were coming to the U.S. from Mexico through the San Ysidro point of entry in southern California and were being brought to Colorado with rental cars by Zamora-Cruz or her daughter, Lara, from the Northglenn, California area.
At least 11 drug transactions were recorded by agents in the documents.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado has yet to confirm exactly which people were arrested Thursday, but a spokesman told Denver7 more information would be released later Thursday.
An Internal Revenue Service special agent signed off on the verified complaint for forfeiture in rem for the E. Arizona Avenue and E. Utah Place homes on April 12. The government is also seeking a $2 million money judgment involving the alleged enterprise.
Arrest warrants for most of those involved the alleged ring were issued on April 13.
Tapia-Rubio, Hernandez-Mayo, and both Heberto and Rodrigo Mora-Sanchez were arrested in Aurora Thursday.
Jimenez-Sanchez was arrested Thursday in Breckenridge, and Mora-Campos was arrested in Aspen.
Lisseth Lara, Zamora-Cruz, and Zamora were all arrested Thursday in California, and Chica-Orellana was already in custody.
Medina-Soberanis, Parra, Paz-Herrera, Rodriguez-Padilla, “Bancholas” and two other unknown people remain at large.
Tapia-Rubio’s arrest warrant shows he faces charges of running a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and meth, interstate commerce violations, money laundering, and other drug-related charges.
If convicted on the continuing criminal enterprise operation charge, he faces between 20 years and life in prison.
“This organization is alleged to have moved large amounts of meth and cocaine from Mexico to Colorado, with devastating impact on communities in their wake,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday. “I want to congratulate the outstanding federal, state, and local law enforcement cooperation that resulted in this highly successful operation. Replicating this kind of aggressive law enforcement take down is critical to breaking the backs of these criminal organizations.”
“The stupidest thing a drug trafficker can do is bring his dope business to Colorado,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. “We have the most sophisticated investigators, prosecutors, and partnerships you will find anywhere, and we don't tolerate the poisoning of our people.”
The Denver Strike Force worked with the DEA, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigation, the FBI, IRS, U.S. Marshal Service, West Metro Drug Task Froce, Northern Colorado Drug Task Force, Colorado Attorney General’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Aurora Police Department and Denver Police Department on the case.