Pics: Operation Black Rhino Drug Ring Busts Precede Ugly Drug War Report

Drug warriors hated Amendment 64, a 2012 measure that aimed to legalize limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.

But A64's passage hardly struck a fatal blow against the War on Drugs, as a pair of events last week demonstrate.

On Friday, the United Nations issued its 2015 World Drug Report, a document on view below that drug-law reformers see as demonstrating the failure of the drug war not only in the United States, but across the globe.

Just one day before, meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver touted the results of Operation Black Rhino, which is said to have dismantled two separate drug-trafficking enterprises via the arrests of 23 people and the seizure of drugs, guns and more, as seen in a gallery of photos seen here.

According to the folks at, the U.N. report "details the failure of and harms caused by the war on drugs, but doesn't grapple with the fact that problems such as alarmingly high overdose rates, control of the trade by organized crime networks and illegal sales funding terrorism are caused by the very prohibition policies the international body still supports."

Here are some quotes from the report as highlighted by
"Global opium poppy cultivation in 2014 reached its highest level since the late 1930s."

"The nexus between organized crime and terrorism – in which illicit drug trafficking appears to play a role – poses a serious threat..."

"[Increasing] illicit flows [from drug trafficking] bring with them other forms of organized crime, and undermine security, health and development in an already-fragile region [Africa]."

The past year saw "little change in the overall global situation regarding the production, use and health consequences of illicit drugs.”
A statement from executive director David Borden notes that the report "dutifully laid out what some of the key harms of the current system are. But the report fails to note that the system itself is a cause of those harms, not a solution for them. Prohibiting drugs sends both use and the trade in drugs into a criminal underground, generating untold profits for drug lords and causing terrible harms to many users."

The organization backs an approach to drug policy shorthanded as "Support, Don't Punish." In his own statement, Jake Agliata, regional outreach coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, says his group wants to "spread global awareness about the failures of prohibition."

A far different approach to the problem is exemplified by Operation Rhino, documented by four grand jury indictments that name a total of 39 individuals, some of whom presently remain at large. Raids involving just shy of 200 agents took place on June 25, with items seized including liquid LSD, heroin, methamphetamine, seven guns and $3,500 in cash, the U.S. Attorney's Office reveals.

Notable in its absence from this laundry list: marijuana.

We've included the office's press release below, complete with the names of all the suspects, a description of the law-enforcement effort and a slew of images featuring seized drugs and weapons that stand in stark contrast to the methodology preferred by That's followed by the U.N. report.

U.S. Attorney's Office release:

DENVER – This morning [June 25], nearly 200 agents and officers arrested 23 individuals based on four federal grand jury indictments, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the Metro Gang Task Force (MGTF) announced. The arrests began early this morning and took place without incident. There are 9 individuals who have not yet been arrested, and are now considered fugitives. Further, four were already in custody prior to today’s enforcement action, and three defendants will receive a summons. In addition to today’s arrests, agents and officers recovered liquid LSD, heroin, methamphetamine, 7 guns, and $3,500 in cash.

Four indictments were obtained charging a total of 39 individuals with drug related crimes. The indictments targeted two large but unrelated drug trafficking enterprises as part of an operation known as Black Rhino. The first indictment targeted a group that was operated by brothers Alan and Albert Ramon. The other three indictments targeted a lose-net group of drug traffickers, including Martin Toledo and Marco Calderon. During this multi-year investigation, which started when the MGTF initiated an investigation into the Northside Mafia (NSM), a combined total of 48 pounds of methamphetamine, 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, and 1 pound of heroin. Further, $60,0000 in cash, and 17 guns were seized.

The first indictment charges Alan and Albert Ramon, and those who helped them sell a variety of illegal narcotics. With the help of other family members, the Ramons used their stores, Nick Mart North and Nick Mart 2 South, to sell heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and crack. During the investigation, in December of 2014, agents in California seized over 42 pounds of methamphetamine that was meant to be delivered to the Ramons. The drugs trafficked by the Ramons and others came primarily from Mexico through California via automobile. In addition to the drug distribution charges, some defendants also face firearm related charges. Defendants in this case, in part, come from the Gallant Knights Insane (GKI), Sureno and 211 Crew gangs.

The other three indictments focus on separate unrelated drug trafficking enterprises, with many of the defendants being members of street gangs, including Northside Mafia, Southside Crew, 16th Street Bloods, and a GKI associate. These enterprises received their drugs also from Mexico, but through New Mexico. They were also brought to Colorado by car.
Those named in the Ramon indictment are:

CHRISTIAN BALDERAS CARDONA (arrested in California)
FNU LNU aka CHAPARRO (fugitive)
MARLO GONZALEZ, aka EVIL (arrested)
JASON HOLGUIN (arrested)
DANIEL LOPEZ, aka DROOPY(previously in custody)
ADAM NAKAMURA (arrested)
JAMES PIERCE, aka LEVI (arrested)
ALAN RAMON (previously in custody)
ALAN RAMON, JR. (arrested)
ALBERT RAMON (arrested)
RANDY RAMON (fugitive)
JENNIFER REH (fugitive)
DANIEL RIOS (arrested)
ISIAH ROGERS, aka BIGGIE (fugitive)
ZENA ROMERO (fugitive)
FNU LNU aka SINALOA (arrested)
STEPHANIE TRUJILLO, aka SHORTY (previously in custody)
CARRIE VILLARREAL (previously in custody)

Those named in the other three indictments, including Toledo are:

LAWRENCE CORTEZ (summons issued)
ALAZON LEROUX (fugitive)
SONNY MAYER (arrested)
MARTIN TOLEDO (summons issued)
ROXXANNE VIGIL (summons issued)

“The indictment of 39 individuals on heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine drug trafficking charges, and some on firearm charges, is a powerful step against drug trafficking in Metro Denver – especially on the Westside,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Nearly 200 brave men and women from law enforcement at every level worked this morning to safely arrest the defendants safely. Thanks to their excellent work today’s operation was a success without incident.”

“Today’s arrests are indicative of the success that can be attained when agencies combine resources to investigate street gangs,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas Ravenelle. “It takes joint investigations such as this one, which combined local, state and federal resources, to investigate criminal organizations of this nature. The FBI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute organized criminal enterprises.”

This case was investigated by the Metro Gang Task Force, which includes the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Aurora Police Department, the Colorado Air National Guard, the Colorado State Patrol, the Commerce City Police Department, the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the Denver Police Department, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Lakewood Police Department, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Agencies helping with making arrests this morning include: Brush Police Department, Greeley Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Adams County Parole, Fort Collins Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kasandra Carleton.
If convicted, defendants face a variety of penalties for drug trafficking, anywhere from not more than 20 years in federal prison, to not less than 10 years and up to life in federal prison, depending on the charge.

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

United Nations World Drug Report 2015.pdf

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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.
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