ARLINGTON — In the back seat of Gordito’s white Dodge Ram sat two boxes, for Clorox bleach and an air mattress.
Federal agents had been keeping tabs on the truck — hauling a trailer with a GMC Sierra, painted black, though its registration said it was red — for about an hour on Nov. 10 as it motored north from the Columbia River to Chehalis. Police pulled it over at exit 76.
A Centralia police dog sniffed around and gave a signal that there might drugs in the vehicles. Officers told the driver, Fausto “Gordito” Paz, 38, of Ontario, California, that the trucks needed to be impounded.
Police later found 49 pounds of methamphetamine in the boxes, under blankets and beneath a floorboard of the Dodge, according to records filed this week in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
The meth was en route from California to a secluded, wooded 10-acre property east of Arlington, in the 21900 block of 123rd Avenue NE, where a “leader” of a drug-trafficking organization, Cesar Valdez-Sanudo, 35, lived in a fifth-wheel trailer, according to a prosecutor’s motion to detain the defendant pending trial. Buried 2 feet beneath gravel, and 2 feet under a pile of chopped wood, and in other scattered hiding places on the acreage, Valdez-Sanudo is accused of stashing a trove of meth, fentanyl and many thousands of dollars in bundled cash.
Prosecutors believe his drug ring suffered a major blow on Dec. 16, when federal agents served 15 search warrants in western and eastern Washington, as well as in California. In a series of arrests, they documented seizing 93 pounds of meth, 15 pounds of heroin, 35,000 pills suspected to be fentanyl, 24 guns, over a half-million dollars in cash and $100,000 from a bank account.
This was in addition to another 154 pounds of meth, 20 pounds of heroin and 7,000 suspected fentanyl pills seized prior to the “takedown” day, court papers say.
Valdez-Sanudo, a Mexican national with a permanent U.S. resident card, had no prior felony record. He’s charged in federal court with three felonies: conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, possession with intent to distribute meth and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In the same federal court records, prosecutors sought to detain his alleged right-hand man and “possible cousin,” Jose “Primo” Arredondo-Valdez, 25, of Lake Stevens, as well as Wayne Frisby, 36, a blind rapper from Marysville who calls himself Mac Wayne, the self-proclaimed “Ray Charles of rap.”
Frisby is accused of being a top local re-distributor of drugs trafficked by the ring. He’s a five-time felon, mostly due to drug offenses, who was sentenced to about two years in prison in 2018 for possessing a Glock pistol in north Everett.
According to the new federal court papers, Frisby called Valdez-Sanudo in November, saying he played a part in a fentanyl ripoff that led to the shooting death of Jason Castle, 42, in Marysville.
Federal agents first intercepted a phone call about the killing on Nov. 8. The next day, Valdez-Sanudo asked Frisby if he was coming over, according to court papers.
“Frisby replied that he and his ‘homeboy’ had killed someone and Frisby was trying to take care of stuff to include hiding the shooter,” the court records say.
On the phone, Frisby claimed it had been self-defense, the court papers say. Two other men have since been charged with murder in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Agents had intercepted many other phone calls involving Valdez-Sanudo in the intervening weeks, and investigators came to learn the code words of this drug ring.
One “water” meant 1 pound of meth. Ten “pieces” or “chocolates” meant 10 ounces of heroin.
Calls suggested Valdez-Sanudo pulled the strings of the 49-pound meth shipment in the Dodge Ram. About a week after “Gordito” was pulled over, the Arlington man told one of his alleged co-conspirators that he suspected the drug courier had stolen the meth for himself.
Valdez-Sanudo told that California man, Aaron “Sobrino” Alarcon-Castaneda, that he would go to Paz’s home and “beat him with a pistol,” and he instructed “Sobrino” to put “cables on his crotch” — which agents interpreted to mean torturing him until he gave up the supposedly stolen drugs, according to the allegations.
Within a couple of hours, on Nov. 16, Ontario police showed up at Paz’s door with records showing officers in Washington had found and seized drugs in the Dodge.
And a few minutes later, agents intercepted a phone call from Valdez-Sanudo’s alleged henchman, saying he had actually been at Paz’s home when some cops showed up, so he fled through the back door.
A month later, agents moved in on Valdez-Sanudo and his crew. They learned he and “Primo” were going to the Snoqualmie Casino in North Bend, where they had a scheme to launder drug money, according to the agents.
Federal investigators arrested the pair in a vehicle at the casino around 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 16. A loaded gold-plated pistol sat at Valdez-Sanudo’s feet, court papers say.
Behind his partner was a loaded SKS rifle with a makeshift suppressor. Federal agents wrote that Valdez-Sanudo carried “$50,000 to $70,000 in cash” in his “hands, pockets, the glove box, and backpacks.”
That day authorities searched his Arlington property until it grew dark outside. Under a Raptor ATV, agents dug about 2 feet into the ground, finding a wooden box with two packages containing almost 9 pounds of meth. “The Raptor” had been referenced in phone calls between Valdez-Sanudo and “Primo.”
Under a plywood plank on a muddy ATV track, the agents found an orange case with about 8 pounds of shrink-wrapped heroin, about 6,000 fentanyl pills and 10 more pounds of meth.
Agents seized seven guns — an AR-15 with a suppressor, two more rifles, a shotgun and three pistols — in Valdez-Sanudo’s trailer. Another pistol and two more rifles were found in or under a trailer where Arredondo-Valdez appeared to be staying. Meanwhile, as they searched, agents recognized a few of Valdez-Sanudo’s associates slowly driving past the property.
The next day, agents turned their attention to a pile of freshly cut logs that seemed out of place. Under the stack and under a couple feet of dirt, investigators dug up a plastic tub, a cooler and a bucket sealed with red duct tape. Inside were about 47 pounds of meth.
Then they looked under a BMW covered by a canopy. They dug through the gravel until they uncovered two wooden boxes with an estimated 5 pounds of heroin, 10,000 suspected fentanyl pills and $290,000 cash.
Police arrested the blind rapper, Frisby, the same week. He got into a vehicle driven by a woman, and investigators tailed him in an unmarked police car. Then smoke started to billow out of the back windows. Apparently, Frisby had thrown a lighter into the back seat with the flame still burning. It ignited the back seat. Frisby was arrested, and agents reportedly found 2 grams of heroin on him.
Earlier, in an intercepted phone call from mid-November, Frisby spoke with Valdez-Sanudo about returning to the Arlington property to pick up a pistol, court papers say. As a felon, Frisby is not allowed to have guns. About a week before the killing in Marysville, Snohomish County deputies arrested Frisby for investigation of having another gun. At the time of that arrest, he was carrying two loaded ammo magazines, brass knuckles, knives and $1,417 in cash, according to the federal court records.
The story of Frisby’s challenging youth was recounted in a small-screen biopic, “Blind and Battered.” He lost his eyesight when he shot himself as a teen. His explicit rap lyrics borrowed from a real life of hustling and drug dealing: “Government agents and your local police / kicking in your door make you get on your knees / make you lay on the floor / while they look for your cheese.”
Frisby asked to be released pending trial this month, to reside with his fiancée and their new baby. A U.S. magistrate judge denied the request. Similar requests were denied for the two men living near Arlington.
Eleven people have been indicted in the case.
Some defendants were arrested and released from custody on a promise to show up to court: Steven Delvecchio, 63, of Snohomish; Tracy Hawkins, 53, of Gold Bar; Yvette Olguin, 37, of Everett, who is Valdez-Sanudo’s significant other; and Keith Silverson, 36, of Tacoma.
Only one other man, Gabriel Vazquez-Ruiz, 34, of Bothell, was not released under a federal judge’s order.
Warrants were issued for those who remained at large: Alarcon-Castaneda, 35, of Chino, California; Paz; and Omar Vazquez-Limon, 36, of Kent.
Arredondo-Valdez, aka “Primo,” faces an immigration detainer. He’s a Mexican citizen, federal records say.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed a notice seeking to take ownership of the 10-acre property near Arlington. Property records listed it as “vacant land” owned by a trust in the names of Olguin and Valdez-Sanudo.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.