OGDEN -- The Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force said Wednesday it has dismantled a far-reaching drug trafficking operation with roots in Ogden.
Nine arrests of key Ogden suspects headline the sweep that police say has rolled up as many as 61 arrestees and other pursued suspects totaling 180 felony charges in Utah, Arizona, Montana and North Dakota.
Lt. Troy Burnett, Strike Force commander, announced the arrests of several key figures in the trafficking ring who have been under investigation for nearly a year.
Darren Lujan, 37, allegedly was running the operation from Phoenix and faces 21 felony counts of arranging to distribute a controlled substance and continuing a criminal enterprise.
Lujan is a former Ogden resident and high-ranking member of the Trece gang. He was arrested by Arizona police Monday and is in the process of being extradited to face Utah charges.
Lujan is reported to have connections to other gangs and Mexican cartels that supplied him with methamphetamine and heroin, the Strike Force said.
Along with Lujan, several of his alleged distributors and managers were arrested.
Maria Sabala, 43, was identified as one of Lujan's main contacts in Ogden who was said to have arranged the transportation of meth and heroin from Phoenix. She is still at large and being sought by police.
Others in Ogden who allegedly took orders from Lujan or had connections to the group include: Gabriel Juarez, 22, James Villastrigo, 35, Bobby Martinez, 36, Isaac Tirado, 32, Craig Greene, 33, Anthony Gentile, 36, Tiffany Booth, 25, and Marquita Valdez, 29.
These alleged distributors would either sell their product on the street or resell it to smaller dealers, many of them gang members.
The investigation has identified 61 individuals involved with the organization with a total of 180 felony charges, Burnett said.
Burnett said the Strike Force has been investigating the source of meth and heroin in the Weber County area for several years and caught on to Lujan's group in the past year.
Agencies involved in the investigation included the FBI, Roy, South Ogden and Ogden police, the Ogden Metro Gang Unit, Phoenix City Police and the Utah Highway Patrol.
"This could not have been done by any one unit. It was a significant team effort," Burnett said.
Although the dismantling of this particular group won't eliminate the drug trade in northern Utah, Burnett said it was one of the main sources and will definitely have an effect on supply.
Through the arrests more than 15 pounds of methamphetamine, more than a pound of heroin, plus marijuana, cocaine and mushrooms have been seized, as well as cash and assets. Burnett could not confirm an exact amount, but said the group's business was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Burnett noted that the main players in this investigation were gang members, most prominently from the Trece or O-13 gang.
Burnett said most gangs nowadays live off of two things: The money made from crime and the community's fear of them.
Gangs organizing complex businesses like this and even working with rival gangs is becoming more common. Although Trace was at the forefront of the business, several differing gangs, including even white supremacist gangs had a hand in the large network of drug distribution.
"It doesn't sit well with the Strike Force," he said. "We aggressively investigate these types of organizations. We'd like to let them know that someone is always watching them."
Contact reporter Andreas Rivera at 801-625-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SE_Andreas.