A series of major drug busts directed by the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force took nearly $600,000 worth of narcotics off the street in the Ogden and Salt Lake areas last week.
In five incidents beginning May 27 and ending May 28, the strike force and assisting agencies arrested 11 individuals and seized marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin, plus a truckload of rifles and ammunition driven by a convicted felon.
Lt. Darin Parke, strike force commander, said the two-day crime takedown would not have been as successful without the cooperation of local police and agencies such as the West Valley Narcotics Unit and the Drug Enforcement Agency Metro Task Force.
Parke noted the majority of the strike force arrests over the two days were on drug-related charges against illegal immigrants from Mexico. Several also will face charges related to fraudulent identification papers.
In the 11 months prior to the end of April, 80 percent of the drugs seized by the strike force were taken from illegal immigrants, he said.
"It's easy to say 'you're being racist' or 'you're targeting those folks,' but they actually only comprised 8 percent of our arrests," Parke said.
"For that small percentage to be in charge or in control of that percentage of our drugs says something toward securing the border, at least from a drug perspective. I wish I didn't have 80 percent of the problem I do, and that would be one way to try and solve it."
Mexican drug cartels have taken over the vast majority of the trade, Parke said, and the drugs coming into Ogden are being distributed from Mexico through the Salt Lake area.
"A lot of our drugs are coming straight up from Mexico into Salt Lake and being dispersed into the Ogden area," Parke said.
After the strike force and Weber County Sheriff's Office seized 95 pounds of marijuana in a minivan Thursday at the Interstate 15 exit at Marriot-Slaterville, the driver, Victor Tobon-Cruz, and his stepdaughter, Viridiana Pita, were arrested. Another man, Jose Villalobos, also was arrested on suspicion of being part of the deal and serving as a lookout. A search of Tobon-Cruz's home at 6175 Wakeview Drive in Kearns led to the discovery of 13 more pounds of marijuana, bringing the total street value of the drugs to $215,000.
Acting on information about another deal later, agents found 115 grams (about 4 ounces) of methamphetamines, worth about $6,000, in a car driven on the 100 block of 33rd Street in Ogden. Vehicle occupants Juan Antonio Lopez-Camacho and Bernardo Saldana Camacho were arrested.
Information from the arrests of Milton Ruiz Bautista and Jorge Mendez-Araujo in Ogden on the 4100 block of Harrison Boulevard led to the biggest bust of the week. With help from Ogden and South Ogden officers, the strike force K-9 unit detected 91 grams of heroin, wrapped in 321 balloons, worth $6,420, hidden in a vehicle driven by Bautista.
That drug seizure led agents to a home at 4365 S. 6095 West, in West Valley City, where they discovered 31aN2 pounds of heroin, worth $365.000, wrapped in electrical tape in 50 packages.
A shrine to Jesus Malverde. believed to be the patron saint of drug trafficking, wasn't enough to protect the suspected dealers from the law. Three men were arrested on suspicion of possession of heroin with intent to distribute: Juan Gonzales-Esqueda, Kevin Delgado and Josue Ridriguez-Agular.
"Maybe they should have prayed to him harder," Parke joked.
To cap their busy two days, agents arrested Wade Taylor on suspicion of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Taylor was pulled over for traffic violations on the 2600 block of G Avenue in Ogden; officers found seven rifles, a footlocker full of ammunition and welding equipment believed to be stolen.
The drug seizures will help reduce the drug trade for awhile, Parke said.
"With the value of the drugs involved, somebody higher up the food chain is definitely going to have a financial impact," Parke said.
"Based on the level of dealers we were dealing with, they're going to have to find a replacement for those folks that they're willing to trust with that much value in the future. It's going to impact, but by no means is it going to solve our problem."