A joint operation by multiple local and federal law enforcement agencies this week culminated in scores of arrests and the seizure of large amounts of narcotics in and around the Roswell area.
In all, 100 arrests were made of individuals wanted on outstanding felony warrants between Nov. 16 and Nov. 19 in Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties. Seventeen firearms and 5,955 grams of illegal narcotics including methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana were also seized during that period, Sonya K. Chavez, U.S. Marshal for the District of New Mexico, said Friday at a press conference outside the Roswell Police Department.
“We all worked together to accomplish this,” Chavez said at the press conference, while RPD Chief Phil Smith; Sheriffs Mike Herrington of Chaves County and Corey Heldon of Lea County; and District Attorney Dianne Luce of New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District stood nearby. Representatives from the New Mexico State Police, Drug Enforcement Agency and Homeland Security investigations were also on hand.
Though she could not give an exact number, Chavez said most of the individuals arrested were the subjects of active felony warrants on drug trafficking charges.
As many as 15 agencies were involved in the aggressive three-day effort carried out as part of Operation Washout. Operation Washout is a national initiative in which federal law enforcement collaborates with state and local law enforcement in communities plagued by crime to investigate and arrest violent criminal suspects who are wanted on felony warrants.
Support Local Journalism
Subscribe to the Roswell Daily Record today.
Support Local Journalism
“It is an opportunity for all of us to pool our resources together,” Chavez said. She added that those arrested were identified by local law enforcement officials on the ground.
Among the arrests were 17 individuals connected to an alleged methamphetamine trafficking organization that operated in and around Roswell. They are facing federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges, Kyle Williamson, special agent for the DEA’s El Paso Division, which includes New Mexico, said at the press conference.
He said the individuals were arrested Monday by the DEA and federal officials in tandem with local law enforcement. That case will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico.
Ramon Antonio Reyes-Meza, an 18th individual, is also being sought on narcotics trafficking and money laundering charges, Williamson said.
The remaining 83 arrests were all on local and state warrants and have been filed in Chaves County Magistrate Court. They will be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office for the 5th Judicial District, Luce said.
She said that her office took over the cases that were considered for the operation, and in the DA’s Chaves County office they have been divided up, reviewed, approved and ready so that they can proceed with the prosecution.
Though criminal and civil trials across New Mexico have been put on pause because of the COVID-19 health restrictions, other court proceedings are continuing.
“We are having court by Google Meets so these cases will continue, they will be prosecuted,” she said.
Chavez said at the press conference that in the past 18 months three similar operations have taken place in New Mexico: one in the Las Cruces area and two others in the Albuquerque Metro Area.
She said two factors though determine in which communities federal agencies will invest their manpower and time as part of Operation Washout: the need and the partnerships that federal law enforcement has with local law enforcement in those communities.
“So we are able to show that on a daily basis we have incredibly strong, effective partnerships with our local, state and federal agencies,” she said.
Law enforcement leaders from southeast New Mexico whose departments also contributed to the operation expressed thanks for the federal help in their efforts to tackle crime in their areas, with defendants tried in federal court likely to face stiffer penalties then they would at the state level in New Mexico.
“In this community the citizens have been pleading and asking for help. I hope this will be a start having these defendants go federal through this system. It’s a lot tougher than the state system,” Captain Lance Bateman of the New Mexico State Police said.
The sentiment was one also shared by Smith, who said New Mexico has a high rate of recidivism among criminals.
“The federal court system puts these people away where they belong, ensuring the quality of life for not only our Roswell citizens and the citizens of Chaves County but the entire state of New Mexico,” he said.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.