DENVER — Law enforcement officials in Colorado say 21 people have been charged for their alleged involvement in a drug trafficking ring linked to a Mexican cartel.
Officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA, and Colorado’s 18th Judicial District announced during a press conference Wednesday a 20-count grand jury indictment of 19 people in connection with the drug-distribution ring that dealt with fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and firearms. Two other suspects were identified and arrested after the indictments.
The alleged network was based in Colorado and distributed drugs to several counties and cities in the region, including Denver, Aurora, Commerce City, Lakewood, and Thornton. According to the DEA, it was led by Saul Ramon Rivera-Beltran, 30, of Thornton, who they said coordinated the drug shipments and deals from Mexico.
Rivera-Beltran, along with several others named in the indictment, was arrested on several charges, including racketeering and conspiracy under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act to drug distribution and money laundering. Rivera-Beltran is being held on a $1 million bond.
DEA Denver Field Division Acting Special Agent in Charge David Olesky said the investigation into the organization began in April of this year and concluded in the past several weeks. During the investigation, officials said they could link the group to the Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexican-based organized crime syndicate.
Olesky said investigators seized 110,000 prescription pills laced with fentanyl, eight pounds of heroin, six kilograms of meth, 11 kilograms of cocaine, and around $450,000 in cash. Additionally, 28 firearms, multiple hand grenades, high-capacity magazines, and several sets of body armor were seized during the investigation.
Olesky said the group was “preparing for a battle,” which he said played out on multiple occasions during the investigation.
“Targets of the investigation would recklessly shoot their firearms out the windows of their vehicles in celebratory fashion or would fire rounds in their backyards for fun,” Olesky said.
According to Olesky, the fentanyl-laced pills seized during the investigation were likely manufactured in Mexico for as little as .04 a pill and sold on the streets in Colorado for upwards of $20 each. He didn’t specify how they were distributed but said many counterfeit fentanyl pills are available online through social media sites.
DEA testing has revealed that two out of five counterfeit pills usually seized during these operations contain enough fentanyl to deliver a fatal dose, meaning the 110,000 pills taken off the streets during this investigation potently saved 40,000 lives, according to Olesky.
“This organization and its members had no regard for the impact their activities had on our community. It was all about greed and making money,” Olesky said.
The fentanyl crisis reaches from coast to coast, and Colorado is not immune. The state health website shows that fentanyl-related overdoses have doubled each of the last three years, topping out last year at 540 deaths. That number is expected to be even higher in 2021.
In addition to the arrest of Rivera-Beltran, the following suspects are facing charges in connection to the operation and will be prosecuted in Douglas County District Court:
- Samuel Padilla-Romo
- Jesus Tarango-Rodriquez
- Misael Acosta-garcia
- Martin Ivan Trevizo
- Austin Peterson
- Christian Beltran-Beltran
- Gustavo Labrador Valderrama
- Luis Jacob Zytacua
- Amanda Fair Wynn Bidgood
- Juan Francis Sarabia-Mancinas
- Anita Kay Bateman
- Miguel Diarte
- Brayan Osiel Gonzales-Mancinas
- Jorge Escamilla
- Antonio Lorenzo Escamilla
- Ernestina Angela Montoya
- Cesar A Ortiz
- Alberto Sanchez Rodrigquez
- Adrian Santana
- Nancy Vargas
Robert Garrison at KMGH first reported this story.