United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Mark Wollman, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Stephen C. Herkins announced Thursday, June 3 that a federal grand jury sitting in Fresno returned a 12-count indictment against Mario Penaloza, 23, of Orange Cove; Javier Lopez-Estrada, aka Jose Esquivel-Torres, 27, of Oakdale; Mario Martinez-Botello, 31, of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Jesus Bucio-Mendoza, aka Miguel Mendoza Alvarez, 25, of Fresno; and Armando Toledo, aka Ernesto Gonzalez-Garcia, 25, of San Fernando, charging them with conspiring to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.
All the defendants are originally from Michoacan, Mexico and are also charged with being illegal aliens in possession of a handgun and ammunition. Penaloza is charged with additional firearms charges stemming from the seizure of a Ruger handgun with a filed off serial number, an SKS assault weapon and ammunition seized from his residence in Orange Cove. All defendants are charged with the crime of avoiding detection by immigration officers. Bucio-Mendoza is charged, individually, with being an illegal alien who was previously deported or removed from the United States.
This case is the product of an investigation conducted by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives (ATF). Assistant United States Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Deanna L. Martinez are prosecuting the case.
The indictment follows the defendants’ arrest in Fowler, California on May 26, in connection with an undercover narcotics investigation that led to the seizure of 7.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, one assault weapon, two semi-automatic handguns, and 32 rounds of ammunition. Court documents filed in the case indicate that the defendants delivered five pounds of crystal methamphetamine to undercover agents following negotiations. Agents then seized another 2.5 pounds of the drug, along with the assault weapon and firearm without serial numbers, from Penaloza’s Orange Cove residence during the execution of a follow-up search warrant. Following the seizure, Penaloza indicated the drug had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico. According to DEA, the Mexican state of Michoacan, from where the defendants hail, is currently considered the capital of crystal methamphetamine production in Mexico.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “This case is an excellent example of inter-agency cooperation to combat drug trafficking emanating from the South West border. The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to working with federal and local law enforcement agencies, and with our partners in Mexican law enforcement, to disrupt and dismantle Mexican drug trafficking organizations.”
“Drugs and guns can be a deadly combination and every seizure makes the community a safer place. These arrests show that we will be relentless in our pursuit in removing drug traffickers from the streets. The DEA will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to bring these individuals to justice,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams.
“(The Thursday, June 3) indictment should send a clear message that the illegal possession or use of a firearm in California will not be tolerated,” said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Stephen C. Herkins. “ATF will continue to participate with other law enforcement agencies and utilize our combined resources and expertise to keep the guns out of the hands of violent criminals. Those who choose to violate the federal firearms laws will be held accountable for their actions.”
If convicted of the drug violations alone, all defendants, except Bucio-Mendoza, face a minimum prison sentence of 10 years, a maximum term of life, and a fine of $4 million per count. Based on a prior drug trafficking conviction out of San Francisco, Bucio-Mendoza faces an enhanced penalty of 20 years to life in prison and a fine of $8 million.