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More than 400 LEOs involved in Calif. cartel raid yielding 36 arrests

Forty-seven people have been charged in connection with the alleged crime network; federal agents, along with local and state police, were involved in the investigations

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Federal agents seized a stockpile of ghost guns, ammunition and methamphetamine on June 30, 2021, that were bound for Mexico as part of an ongoing drug and firearms trafficking network. (U.S. Dept. of Justice/TNS)

U.S. Dept. of Justice/TNS

By Nathan Solis
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Federal agents arrested 36 people, including a U.S. Border Patrol agent, allegedly linked to a California-based drug, firearms and money laundering network tied to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Agents raided locations far and wide on Wednesday, serving search warrants in the Imperial Valley, San Diego, Fresno and Los Angeles, along with Phoenix, Ariz., and Salem, Ore, the Department of Justice announced in a news release. All told, 47 people have been charged in connection with the alleged crime network.

Among those arrested was U.S. Border Patrol agent Alexander Grindley, who was accused of methamphetamine trafficking. Grindley is also linked to multiple spinoff investigations in the case and in other jurisdictions, according to authorities.

Eleven people named in the federal charges remain at large. More than 400 federal, state and local police agencies were involved in the raids.

Since the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces investigation began, federal agents have seized more than 700 pounds of methamphetamine, 52 guns and 4 kilograms of fentanyl. An undisclosed amount of cocaine and heroin were also seized by federal agents during their investigation.

The suspects named in the 14 indictments unsealed Wednesday are charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and gun-related offenses, the Department of Justice said. Their operations were run out of Brawley, El Centro, Westmoreland, Imperial, Calexico, Niland, Holtville and Calipatria in California’s Imperial Valley, according to authorities. The suspects also operated out of Mexicali, Mexico.

The suspects belonged to multiple trafficking operations that were part of a network supplying Imperial County and other locations with drugs, federal prosecutors alleged.

Federal agents have been working on the case for the past few years.

On June 30, 2021, agents seized two pounds of methamphetamine and a slew of ghost guns and ammunition, according to court records.

The items seized by federal agents included various parts for rifles, including receivers, barrels and stocks. Agents also found 18 rifle magazines, 9mm rounds and roughly 400 rounds of .223 Red Army ammunition, which are made in Russia, prosecutors said. None of the parts or firearms had serial numbers.

Federal agents learned through wiretapped conversations that Cory Gershen allegedly supplied other members of the trafficking operation with ghost guns in exchange for methamphetamine, the Justice Department alleged. The stockpile of assault rifles intercepted by federal agents were bound for Mexico, according to prosecutors.

Federal agents also seized two assault rifle-style ghost guns, a Colt .380 semiautomatic handgun and more Russian rifle ammunition when they arrested Guadalupe Molina-Flores on June 30, 2021, another alleged member of the trafficking operation, authorities said. Agents also allege that they found 309 grams of methamphetamine at his home.

“With this takedown, the Justice Department has dealt yet another blow to the Sinaloa Cartel and its associates,” Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland said in a statement. “We will continue to be relentless in our fight to protect American communities from the cartels.”

The arrests arrive as fentanyl has devastated communities across the country. California recorded 7,385 opioid-related deaths in 2022 and 24 in Imperial County, according to the state Deptartment of Public Health.

With fentanyl flooding into California, federal agents learned that the price per pill on the black market has dropped sharply, according to the Justice Department. In June 2021, a pill sold in the Imperial Valley went for about $1.65 or $1.75, but dropped later that year to $1.25. This May, those same pills were being sold for just 45 cents.

“This investigation tore apart a drug trafficking network responsible for supplying dealers in communities across the region,” Tara McGrath, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement. “But there is still much work to be done. If you’re a parent and today’s price of fentanyl terrifies you, talk to your kids about the dangers of drug use. If you’re an addict and your dealer was arrested today, seek treatment. And if you’re a dealer but your supplier was arrested today, look out — we are coming for you next.”

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