By Jackson Gardner / The Chronicle
CENTRALIA — Members of the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team reportedly seized 24 pounds of methamphetamine as well as $535,000 worth of fentanyl pills and heroin in two separate busts just six days apart from each other, according to two JNET press releases.
The first bust came on July 7 during a traffic stop of a van on I-5, according to a release.
Norberto Becerra, also known as Alberto Perez Gutierrez, 40, and co-defendant Gabriel A. Noriega-Diaz, 31, were both charged with possession of meth with intent to manufacture or deliver.
Both were held in custody on $100,000 bails.
At their arraignment hearing on Thursday, Noriega-Diaz, who appeared over a video call in the Lewis County Jail, said he would like to plead guilty, but was advised by his defense counsel, Kevin Nelson, to hold off on that decision.
Becerra, who had already posted his $100,000 bail, appeared out of custody Thursday and pleaded not guilty to his charge.
Becerra’s conditions of release allowed him to return to California, which is reportedly his home state, although his address is listed in court documents as “unknown.”
This part of the conditions of release was contested by Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello.
“There was concern that this might not be his true name, so given the lack of certain information we don’t want him leaving the area,” Masiello said.
Becerra’s defense attorney, Chris Baum, argued that the reason bail was set so high — $100,000 — was to assure he would return to court and that preventing him from returning home was not necessary.
According to court documents, on July 7 the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team received a tip from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that a vehicle was traveling northbound on I-5 carrying a large shipment of methamphetamine, with a description of the vehicle.
On July 7, members of JNET conducted a traffic stop on I-5 on a white Dodge Caravan, rented out of California, that was being driven by Noriega-Diaz.
While contacting the occupants in the vehicle, which included Noriega-Diaz, Becerra and a woman with three small children who was not arrested, nervous indicators and different stories warranted the deployment of Centralia Police Officer Ruben Ramirez and his K-9, Pax, to search the vehicle which produced a positive alert on the van, according to the release.
During the search, a hidden compartment in the floorboard was revealed, containing 24 pounds of methamphetamine.
Becerra was reportedly seated above the drugs.
Becerra reportedly told law enforcement during interviews that the drugs were to be delivered to a Washington state recipient, according to the release.
About a week after this finding, on Monday, July 13, JNET was able to seize 26,000 fentanyl pills, 1,011 grams of heroin and a loaded firearm from a vehicle within the boundaries of Lewis County, according to a release.
Ericka P. Cardenas, 32, and Marlen Y. Cardenas, 19, both of Phoenix, Arizona, were charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and possession of heroin while Adam B. Collier, 36, of Scottsdale, Arizona, was just charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or deliver.
A 17-year-old juvenile female, of Phoenix, was also arrested in relation to the bust.
According to the Lewis County Jail roster, Ericka Cardenas, Marlen Cardenas and Collier are being held in custody on $250,000 bail after making preliminary appearance in Lewis County Superior Court on Tuesday.
One child was in the vehicle during the arrest and was placed into protective custody with Child Protective Services, according to a release.
According to court documents, a JNET detective was advised that a drug transaction had been scheduled for July 13 where it was reported that 40,000 fentanyl pills would be trading hands in Chehalis.
Members of JNET set up in the area the transaction was supposed to take place and located the vehicle the source of the pills was to be driving.
The team converged on the vehicle and reportedly found 20,000 fentanyl pills inside a box that Collier was holding, an additional 6,000 pills along with more than 1,000 grams of heroin in a backpack and a firearm that reportedly fell out of Collier’s waistband.
“The street value of the drugs seized is approximately $535,000,” a press release reads. “With the current opioid epidemic, this is a significant seizure and directly impacts our community’s safety.”
Ericka Cardenas, Marlen Cardenas and Collier are scheduled to make their arraignment hearing on July 23.