Federal authorities found a large amount of drugs in a recent raid in the Everett area. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Western Washington arrests tied to Mexican drug cartel

EVERETT — The suspected drug trafficker from Snohomish County reportedly left no doubt that his was a deadly serious business.

He met at an area restaurant in late November with a man who claimed he could arrange delivery of machine guns and other military-style firearms near the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

The drug suspect allegedly opened the conversation by saying he worked for Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel. He wasn’t bragging, he explained, just making clear the stakes.

The man offering machine guns for sale was an undercover agent with the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The suspect “explained to me that I would not be dealing with him if this deal went further, but that I would be dealing with others who worked for Zambada,” the agent later wrote in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

And if something went wrong, he was warned that those people would cut off his head, the agent wrote.

As things turned out, there was no gun deal. Instead, the investigation concluded Dec. 14 with the arrests of the suspected trafficker and his brother, both of whom lived in Clearview. The bust occurred after they allegedly delivered 22 pounds of cocaine to an auto repair business along Everett’s Evergreen Way.

Investigators also say they recovered an additional eight pounds of cocaine, seven pounds of heroin and 10 pounds of methamphetamine.

Luis Venancio Cueto-Ruiz and Leonardo Cueto-Ruiz, both in their early 20s, now face federal charges of possession of drugs with intent to sell. In court papers, investigators describe the pair as not only having access to large amounts of cocaine, heroin and meth, but also using counter-surveillance measures.

At one point, the suspected traffickers placed a lookout in a van for a dry cleaning business to keep vigil outside a restaurant where one deal was being negotiated, court papers say. The traffickers allegedly described smuggling heroin into the country in the soles of women’s shoes.

When Luis Cueto-Ruiz was booked into the county jail in Everett after the December arrest, police listed the head of the Sinaloa cartel as his employer.

The Sinaloa cartel traffics in drugs, guns, cash and violence. It gets its name from the Mexican state where it emerged. People connected to the group have operated in the county for years.

Cartel members were the primary source for the heroin that James Painter sold in south Snohomish and north King counties prior to his arrest in 2014. He’s now serving 15 years in prison.

“I fell right into it and my greed took me down,” Painter said at his sentencing. “I destroyed lives, a lot of lives. I deserve everything I’m getting.”

Representatives of the Sinaloa cartel also are said to be involved with people connected to the Nov. 28 killing of Jorge A. Leal-Sanchez at a home near Edmonds, court papers show. Leal-Sanchez was fatally shot by a masked gunman who arrived just as the victim was about to exchange 1.5 pounds of meth for several thousand dollars in cash.

Federal officials in November also moved against what they have described as a “large drug smuggling and distribution ring” that allegedly operated in Snohomish, King, Skagit, Whatcom, Yakima and Franklin counties.

In the course of a six-month investigation, detectives reportedly seized nearly 18 pounds of meth, about eight pounds of cocaine and nearly two pounds of heroin. They also snagged more than 20 guns, including a military-style rifle, and nearly $300,000.

So far, 17 people have been indicted on 41 federal charges, including drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy. Among the defendants are men from Everett and Camano Island, and others from Mount Vernon, Pasco, Burien, Renton and Kent. The drugs allegedly were supplied by people based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and brought to this area hidden in cars, according to court papers.

In all, two dozen search warrants were served in the case, starting Nov. 2. Among the places hit were apartments in Everett and Lynnwood, an auto body shop in Sedro Wooley and a car dealership in Mount Vernon.

A south Everett Mexican restaurant also was searched. Business records list one of the men who was indicted as its registered agent. In court papers, the federal government said it believes more than $7,400 seized at the restaurant can be linked to the alleged drug trafficking conspiracy.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

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