Late yesterday, our local feds got to brag up a good half-decade's worth of sleuthing when they announced charges against more than a dozen people in connection with a multi-state cocaine- and heroin-trafficking syndicate based in Forth Worth.
The accompanying documents, which Robert shared in yesterday's post, are a fascinating primer on how investigators unravel large criminal operations like this one, dubbed the Orozco Drug Trafficking Organization after its apparent leaders, brothers Rigoberto "Rigo" and Eric Orozco.
Intercepted phone calls, wire transfers, carefully calculated bank deposits, and an army of snitches -- it's like a really carefully worded version of your favorite premium cable show.
But the most interesting details, culled mostly from confidential sources and cooperating defendants, outline how the drugs got moved. Because they moved a lot -- to and from Mexico, all throughout Texas, to Atlanta and Philly and, eventually, into the veins and up the noses of junkies and party kids around Dallas and beyond. (We'll have more on Dallas's alleged coke kingpin, Christian Ocana, tomorrow.)
According to FBI Agent Andrew Ferrell, whose affidavit outlines the investigators' work, the heroin business was based mostly out of a Fort Worth body shop. One source estimated the shop was moving $20,000 worth of black-tar heroin a day before they started to feel the heat and had to move out of the shop.
Securing the drugs involved lots of day trips to Mexico, some more successful than others. The Orozcos mostly used women as couriers, agents say. One of those women, Jo Ann Henry, got caught, and when she did, she helped shed light on the adventures of a drug mule.
She'd started as a customer of the shop, and wound up living both there and at houses owned by the Orozcos, where she would see lying around up to seven pounds of black tar heroin. Eventually, she started making the trips south.
She made several of them, each time taking the bus, making the walk, and checking into a motel room in Nuevo Laredo. "The packages of heroin were too big to carry inside of her," Ferrell writes. "Henry would hide the package on her body and walk across the bridge. She carried it "in one big piece and ... wrapped in silver packaging tape," back into Laredo and back onto the bus, up to Fort Worth and back to the shop, which was armed with M-16s and body armor, Henry told investigators. She then took a cut of the drugs and set up shop at a Fort Worth motel from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., a steady flow of business that she said earned her bosses $3,000 to $4,000 a day.
Some couriers were less successful. One of the women charged on Wednesday was Sarah Reyes, who agents say was a meth user turned mule for the Orozcos. According to a witness, Reyes had been sent into Mexico in the spring of last year to pick up a heroin supply. But after flying across the border and making her way to the motel, "Reyes became afraid and refused to smuggle the heroin across the border." Later, on another trip south, the witness told investigators, Reyes got out of the car on an Austin highway and called someone to pick her up.
Reyes' apparent reluctance would prove wise. In March of this year, investigators say, another Orozco meth user named Rachel Skidmore was caught trying to move heroin back into Texas. To make some money, Skidmore told investigators, she'd agreed to help transport 20 ounces of heroin from Piedras Negras, Mexico to San Antonio. She took a bus to Eagle Pass and walked across the border to a Piedras Negras hotel. The heroin was all packaged together, making it impossible to conceal, so they moved to another hotel to properly hide the drugs. But the bulk was still too much, she told the feds, and border agents discovered the heroin.
If only these failed couriers could have been promoted to the domestic cocaine-trafficking department of Team Orozco. That, it seems, is a much easier job, with the added perks of meeting low-rent rappers and producers.
At the same time as it provided DFW with its collective heroin fix, agents say, the Orozco organization was also moving cocaine throughout North Texas and beyond. One witness was asked by Rigo Orozco to transport ten kilos of coke to Pittsburgh, where Orozco believed he could get a better price for it -- $25,000 per kilo. "They would typically hide both the drugs and money inside the hollowed out walls of a cooler," Farrell writes. On another delivery, a witness told investigators, seven kilos of cocaine were found "hidden in the bed of a pick up truck" in Texarkana. Another courier was stopped in Morris County, Texas, with 13 kilos of coke "hidden in the tailgate of the truck."
And that, perhaps, is what inspired the Orozco family to do what all small-but-growing businesses do to meet their shipping needs: Switch to FedEx.
According to another witness, late last decade Orozco made connections with some men -- apparently rappers and music producers -- in Atlanta. The witness posted up at an Atlanta condo until Orozco showed up, and two weeks later the witness found himself at a nearby recording studio.
At the studio, Orozco told the witness to hang out with one of his Atlanta associates, a woman named Wheattina Goodman who often did her drug-running business with her niece in tow. A shipment was coming in, Orozco told the witness.
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And this wasn't any old shipment.
"At approximately 9:30 a.m., a FedEx truck arrived at the studio and delivered a large wooden crate," Farrell writes, recalling the witness's story. "[The witness] signed for the crate, using the name 'John Black.' It took [the witness], Jones and the FedEx Driver to get the crate out of the FedEx truck and into the studio."
According to the witness, Orozco had shipped the drugs using FedEx's "business to business" shipping, which Orozco believed would ensure that they would pass through security without issue. It appeared he was right. The FedEx driver went on his way, and the witness used an automatic screwdriver to open the crate and reveal their bounty: 100 kilos of coke, its origins allegedly unknown to the witness, each brick surrounded by ceramic floor tiles.
And that, it seems, is how cocaine makes to the mirror in the back bedroom of that one high school friend of yours. Weird, eh? I would have bet UPS.