Operation Coronado and the La Familia bust: The Western Slope is Breaking Bad

I'm a proud native of the Western Slope, and when I grew up in Grand Junction, the main substance we had to worry about was uranium. Those were the days. Now, reports about meth busts are the opposite of unusual -- although few can compare to the feds' roundup of alleged drug thugs operating as the La Familia cartel. Six suspects out of eleven indicted back in July have now been arrested, with three more joining them in lockdown earlier this week. Additionally, agents have gathered more than $300,000 in cash, eight kilos of cocaine and three pounds of methamphetamine -- enough to keep fictional teacher-turned-meth-manufacturer Walter White of Breaking Bad in business at least until the cancer kills him.

Look below for more photos (of drugs and dollars), as well as the Justice Department's account.


DENVER -- Eleven members or associates of the La Familia Drug Trafficking Organization, who are from the Western Slope of Colorado, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver on July 23, 2009, on charges of conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of cocaine, United States Attorney David Gaouette and DEA Rocky Mountain Division Special Agent in Charge in Jeffrey Sweetin announced. Since the indictment was obtained in July, the investigation and arrests continued up to and through today. Of the eleven charged, 6 were arrested without incident. Five defendants are fugitives from justice. Those arrested have been taken before a U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge in Grand Junction where they were advised of the charges pending against them. Their cases are pending. In addition, three other defendants were arrested late Tuesday, and are being held on state charges.

The nation-wide operation known as "Coronado" is related to a national takedown of La Familia Cartel members and associates from across the United States. In Colorado 8 kilograms of cocaine, 3 pounds of methamphetamine, and $313,785 in U.S. currency has been seized. The nation-wide investigation has resulted in the seizure of 11.7 tons of narcotics during a 44 month multi-agency investigation. A total of 303 individuals in 19 states were arrested by more than 3,000 agents and officers. Specifically, to date, nationally, Project Coronado has led to the arrest of 1,186 individuals and the seizure of approximately $32.8 million in U.S. currency, and approximately 2,710 pounds of methamphetamine, 1,999 kilograms of cocaine, 29 pounds of heroin, 16,390 pounds of marijuana, 389 weapons, and 269 vehicles.

The defendants charged are:

1. Salvador Vera-Figueroa, age 37, of Nogales, Mexico **FUGITIVE**

2. Emanuel Pimintel, age 19, of Tucson, Arizona **FUGITIVE**

3. Martin Pimintel, age 45, of Tucson, Arizona **ARRESTED**

4. Rosalie Aide Quijada, age 27, of Tucson, Arizona **ARRESTED**

5. Tiburcio Delgadillo-Martinez, age 33, of New Castle, Colorado **ARRESTED**

6. Salvador Delgadillo-Alvarez, age 29, of New Castle, Colorado **ARRESTED**

7. Araceli Topete, age unknown, of Mexico **FUGITIVE**

8. Lucio Topete-Hernandez, age 49, of Mexico **FUGITIVE**

9. Daniel Velaszquez-Guerrero, age 36, of Pontiac, Michigan **FUGITIVE**

10. Justin Skipski, age 28, of Rifle, Colorado **ARRESTED**

11. Jorge Rosales-Acevedo, age 28, of New Castle, Colorado **ARRESTED**

Count 1 alleges that from on or about December 1, 2008 through May 26, 2009, the eleven defendants did knowingly conspire with each other and others to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine.

Count 2 alleges that from February 21, 2009 through February 22, 2009, defendants #1, #5, #7, #8, and #10 knowingly distributed and possessed with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.

Count 3 alleges that from March 5, 2009 through March 7, 2009, defendants #1, #4, #5, #7, #8, #9, and #10 knowingly distributed and possessed with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine.

Count 4 alleges that from March 15, 2009 through March 17, 2009, defendants #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10 knowingly possessed and possessed with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.

Count 5 alleges that from March 25, 2009 through April 6, 2009, defendants #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10 knowingly possessed with intent to distribute cocaine.

Count 6 alleges that from May 3, 2009, through May 9, 2009, all eleven defendants knowingly distributed and possessed with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.

Count 7 alleges the from December 1, 2008 through May 26, 2009, defendants #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10 conspired between themselves and others to commit the offense of engaging in a monetary transaction in property derived from specified unlawful activities, namely U.S. currency being derived from the unlawful distribution of cocaine.

Count 8 is an asset forfeiture count, which states in part, that money derived from specified illegal acts is subject to forfeiture, including $174,415 in U.S. currency seized on March 25, 2009, $96,030 in U.S. currency seized on May 26, 2009 from a residence in New Castle, Colorado, and $31,000 in U.S. currency seized on May 26, 2009 from a residence in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

"It is a priority of the U.S. Attorney's Office to try and stop the flow of drugs from Mexico to Colorado," said U.S. Attorney David Gaouette. "Thanks to the hard work of the DEA, in cooperation with local and state law enforcement agencies and task forces, drug dealers have been arrested and removed from the streets of the Western Slope."

"Violent Mexican based drug trafficking organizations continue to threaten the safety of the citizens of Colorado," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sweetin. "Investigations targeting these criminal organizations are a priority of the DEA. We are working hard every day to bring members of these organizations to justice."

If convicted of count 1 and count 3, each defendant faces not less than 10 years, and up to life in federal prison, as well as a $4,000,000 fine. If convicted of count 2, 4, and 6, each defendant faces not less than 5 years, and up to 40 years imprisonment, as well as a $2,000,000 fine. If convicted of count 5 and 7 each defendant faces not more than 20 years in federal prison, and up to a $500,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the DEA, the Western Colorado Drug Task Force, Two Rivers Drug Task Force, the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the 7th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the 7th Judicial Drug Task Force, the 21st Judicial District Attorney's Office, the Garfield County Sheriff's Office, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Wyatt Angelo.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts