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BREAKING NEWS

AUTHORITIES SAY MAJOR DRUG RING BUSTED IN SKAGIT COUNTY
January 15, 2009



(SKAGIT COUNTY, WA) -- The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle says 16 people were arrested today following a year long investigation into an alleged major drug distribution conspiracy centered in Skagit County.

Federal agents say the drug ring, which as international in scope, allegedly smuggled five to ten kilos of cocaine per month into the United States from Mexico and distributed the drugs in Skagit County and from there the drugs spread out to other parts of Washington State and elsewhere.

The ring also allegedly smuggled pound quantities of heroin into the area. Today alone, law enforcement agents seized five pounds of heroin and two pounds of cocaine when officers searched five residences in Skagit County. Also seized was $23,000 in cash, seven vehicles and two firearms.

Authorities believe the bust completely dismantled the drug ring. The long investigation began with a drug arrest in Seattle two years ago and eventually stretched from the state of Sinaloa in Mexico to Rexburg, Idaho where seven of the alleged drug ring members were arrested today.

And over the past month law officers searched seven locations in Western Washington seizing some 20 kilos of cocaine, 16 pounds of the drug methamphetamine, some $940,000 in cash along with various cars and boats.

The long investigation involved wiretaps, confidential informants to infiltrate the drug ring and investigators breaking a code used by the traffickers to hide their alleged activities.

A Seattle grand jury issued indictments in the case on September 11, charging the alleged kingpins of the drug ring and several others with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamines.

A total of eight of the defendants were indicted in federal court, and seven people have been detained facing either charges in Skagit County Superior Court, or immigration proceedings.

These defendants have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the case and will make their initial appearance today at 2:30 in U.S. District Court in Seattle. All those indicted are innocent until proven guilty:

ALFONSO GUTIERREZ-OROZCO, 25, of Mount Vernon, WA
FERNANDO HERNANDEZ-SALAZAR, 20, of Mount Vernon, WA
ABEL OROZCO-GUTIERREZ, 34, of Tacoma. WA

JOEL VASQUEZ-VASQUEZ, 21 of Mount Vernon, WA
LUIS MIGUEL CAMPOS-ALVARADO, 18 of Mount Vernon, WA
SAMUEL VACA-GARCIA, 26 of Bellingham, WA

These defendants will make their initial appearance in U.S. District Court at 2:30 tomorrow:

JESSIE SMITH, 26, of Sedro Woolley, WA
TAMMY ZOROTOVICH, 39, of Bellingham, WA

The charges in the indictment are punishable by a mandatory minimum ten years in prison up to life in prison. The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Justice Enforcement (ICE), and the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit (SCIDEU), which consists of officers from the Washington State Patrol (WSP), Skagit County Sheriff's Office and Anacortes Police Department.

These additional agencies assisted with the arrests and searches today: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Mount Vernon Police Department, the National Guard, the Bellingham Police Department, and the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force (NWRDTF).

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Diggs and Karyn Johnson and Special Assistant United States Attorney Adam Cornell. Mr. Cornell is a Deputy Snohomish County Prosecutor specially designated to prosecute drug cases in federal court.





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