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Authorities break up regional meth ring; Roswell man allegedly supplied gang that smuggled assault rifles into Mexico

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On Thursday, law enforcement agencies in southeastern New Mexico announced the results of their investigative efforts that led to federal charges for 15 individuals from southeast New Mexico.

Miranda-Santos

Twelve of those charged have already been apprehended; two are from Roswell. Three individuals are still being sought on multiple federal drug trafficking and firearm counts by the collaborative effort between federal, state and local agencies to dismantle a criminal organization accused of trafficking large quantities of methamphetamine and “numerous” firearms.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, during the investigation, which reached its conclusion Wednesday, authorities seized more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine and 44 firearms. Authorities said assault rifles were to be smuggled into Mexico by the criminal organization.

Ponce

The three defendants who haven’t been arrested, Erick Miranda-Santos, 21, of Carlsbad, Robert C. Ponce, 42, of Artesia, and Chelcy Vasquez, 25, of Dexter, are considered fugitives, the Justice Department said. The whereabouts of the fugitives were unknown Thursday, and authorities asked anyone with information to contact the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at 575-526-0700.

Seven of the 12 people apprehended were arrested Wednesday.

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The investigation was initiated by the DEA, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force.

Vasquez

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice’s public affairs officer, Elizabeth Martinez, the agencies were originally targeting a methamphetamine trafficking organization operating in southeastern New Mexico.

Marcos A. Martinez, 30, of Roswell, and Daniel P. Bruton, 38, of Artesia, were allegedly supplying the organization, Martinez said in the news release.

“Based on the investigation, a federal grand jury returned five indictments on Oct. 5, 2017, charging 15 defendants with federal methamphetamine trafficking and firearms offenses,” Martinez said. “One of the indictments charges 10 individuals, including Bruton and Martinez, who are alleged to be members of the criminal organization that was the original target of the investigation.”

Within the 34-count indictment, it is alleged that Bruton, Martinez and their co-defendants conspired to violate federal narcotics trafficking and firearms laws from May through October in Eddy and Chaves counties, as well as another area in New Mexico.

“The indictment includes 55 overt acts that discuss the conspiracy’s operations, including the quantities of methamphetamine — ranging from multiple ounces to five pounds — allegedly distributed by the defendants on a routine basis,” Martinez said. “It also describes the firearms — including assault rifles that allegedly were to be smuggled into Mexico — allegedly used by the defendants in relation to their drug trafficking activities.”

Martinez said the investigative team then quickly expanded.

“(It then included the Homeland Security Investigations), the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, the New Mexico State Police, the Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force and the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office,” Martinez listed. “The investigative targets expanded to include other alleged drug traffickers in Eddy and Chaves counties.”

Marcos Martinez and Jason Cunningham, 37, of Carlsbad, made their initial appearances in federal court in Las Cruces Thursday morning.

Isela Hernandez, 25, of Roswell, Bruton, of Artesia, Sergio Mario Chavez, 33, of Artesia, Kenneth R. Dickerson, 56, of Carlsbad, Joshua A. Masters, 42, of Carlsbad, Timothy G. Tanner, 28, of Carlsbad, Jerry O. Twaddle, 37, of Carlsbad, Ethen G. Watts, 27, of Carlsbad, Linda M. Watts, 28, of Carlsbad, and Randi I. Young, 25, of Carlsbad, made their initial appearances in federal court in Roswell Thursday morning.

Each listed suspect remains in federal custody pending detention hearings, which are scheduled for Wednesday.

Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney said during the announcement that the investigation was a coordinated effort to crackdown on drug trafficking in Eddy and Chaves counties.

“It was part of our continuing statewide fight against drug trafficking and the violence that goes hand-in-hand with it,” Tierney said. “The federal, state and local law enforcement community remains committed to keeping New Mexico’s smaller communities safe from drug trafficking organizations that think they can go unnoticed operating in our smaller cities and towns.”

Steve Borak, acting special agent in charge of the DEA’s El Paso division, said Wednesday’s arrests display the benefit of information-sharing and coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement partners.

“By working together to reduce drug trafficking and use across the nation, we are making our communities safer and our families stronger,” Borak said.

Commander James McCormick of the HIDTA Region VI Pecos Valley Drug Task Force said the cooperative investigation will leave a large impact on trafficking methamphetamine and gun violence in the community.

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.