A two-year undercover investigation involving the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration netted thousands of dollars in alleged drug money. At one home, detectives discovered $37,000. One suspect was found with $12,000. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

A two-year undercover investigation involving the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration netted thousands of dollars in alleged drug money. At one home, detectives discovered $37,000. One suspect was found with $12,000. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Drug task force, feds take down large trafficking operation

Detectives seized heroin, meth and cocaine and believe they arrested the leaders of the ring.

EVERETT — The drug trafficking organization — a direct pipeline from Nogales, Mexico, to Snohomish County — was large and agile.

Its members changed phone numbers every two to three weeks, swapped out vehicles on a regular basis and frequently rotated drug runners to avoid suspicion.

For two years, local law officers and federal agents worked to untangle their network.

Their probe began with a confidential source who provided information in exchange for leniency on a criminal charge. That source described how the group from Mexico was selling several pounds of heroin, cocaine and meth in Snohomish County on a weekly basis.

Through the first year, the investigators conducted surveillance, used a confidential source to buy drugs and served search warrants. Later, undercover detectives posed as drug buyers but paid with marked bills.

The goal was to go beyond the street-level dealers all the way to the top.

And that’s what happened, according to allegations detailed in court documents.

Along the way, the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force seized more than 11 pounds of heroin, 13 pounds of methamphetamine, 3.3 pounds of cocaine, 3,000 counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills and tens of thousands of dollars in suspected drug money. Undercover detectives also bought another five pounds of meth through routine monthly drug deals.

Undercover detectives bought many pounds of methamphetamine over several months in 2018. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

Undercover detectives bought many pounds of methamphetamine over several months in 2018. (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

“The drugs and the money we seized were just a drop in the bucket of what was coming in … over those two years,” said Shari Ireton, a Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. “It will make a significant impact. It was a very sophisticated drug trafficking operation. The detectives did a phenomenal job in their investigation to try to catch the people at the top. That’s how you make an impact, to get the main leaders.”

Court papers allege the leader of the organization was Juan Alberto Loya-Ponce, 29. Prosecutors say he was responsible for the oversight, financing and final approval of major sales. He’d regularly visit Snohomish County from Mexico to rotate couriers and meet new customers, according to the charges.

Also arrested was a 28-year-old man described as the second-in-command who stayed in Snohomish County to oversee the day-to-day operations, including taking orders and arranging various runners for deliveries, according to the allegations.

Detectives identified about 30 suspects during the two-year investigation, Ireton said.

In January 2017, detectives served search warrants on a Lynnwood apartment and a home in Mountlake Terrace. At the apartment, they seized eight pounds of meth, three pounds of heroin and three pounds of cocaine. The Mountlake Terrace home turned up “large amounts of U.S. currency,” drug ledgers and two suspects trying to climb out a window.

By 2018, undercover detectives had established a connection with the traffickers, often meeting monthly in restaurant, supermarket and casino parking lots to buy meth from a frequently changing cast of couriers.

The investigation involved the drug task force, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It wound down in November, and detectives began making arrests.

Inside the wallet of one alleged dealer were religious cards with Catholic imagery on one side, and a calendar on the other.

The calendar included an image of Jesus Malverde, who in some circles has been described as “the patron saint of narcotics traffickers, specifically from the Sinaloa region of Mexico,” court papers said.

While arresting the second-in-command, detectives say they found him carrying $12,000 in cash.

At a different Mountlake Terrace home, they collected a pound of heroin, a handgun, counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl and $37,000 in cash. Mixed in that money was $1,160 in marked bills from the regional drug task force.

Prosecutors intend to seek 10 to 14 year terms for the leaders of the trafficking organization, according to court papers.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Keith Wagoner
Senator becomes first GOP candidate for secretary of state

Sen. Keith Wagoner will challenge Democrat Steve Hobbs, who was appointed to the statewide post in November

Madison is one of three aging elementary schools that would be torn down and replaced if the Everett schools bond is passed next year. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Everett school leaders have 2 big levies on February ballot

The district is asking voters to renew a levy for programs and operations, and to pass a $325 million capital and tech levy.

Reagan Dunn to take on U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier in 8th District

The Republican is challenging incumbent Democrat Kim Schrier in a district which could include a slice of Snohomish County.

Charges: Arlington-area shooting suspect had gun stash, bomb lab

A bomb squad spent two days detonating explosive material. Detectives also discovered an underground bunker full of guns.

A fatal crash prompted closure of West Mukilteo Boulevard between Forest Park and Dogwood Drive Friday afternoon. (Everett Police Department) 20211126
2 identified in deadly T-bone crash in Everett

Otila Retel Azanedo de Jones, 67, and William Jones, 85, died at the scene.

Two brother bear cubs, burned in a fire last summer, were recently reunited at PAWS in Lynnwood. (PAWS) 20211129
Bear cubs, burned in wildfires, reunited in viral video in Lynnwood

The brother cubs are being treated at PAWS Wildlife Center. They were injured in a wildfire near Lake Chelan.

A car breaks and waits for traffic to pass before turning onto 123rd Avenue on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 in Lake Stevens, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Can roundabouts, lower speed limit make 84th Street NE safer?

Maybe, but transportation and disability advocates want design features to make crossing safe.

Everett officials have questions about a 125-room hotel shelter

City Council members say they weren’t aware of the county’s proposal until it made headlines.

A banner outside the door of Goodies in Mountlake Terrace says, “$795,000 Hit 5 ticket sold here.” (Andrea Brown / The Herald) 20211201
Who has the $795,000 Hit 5 ticket sold in Mountlake Terrace?

The winner has until Dec. 8 to claim the prize from a lottery ticket sold June 11 at Goodies Food.

Most Read