Middletown police special operations officers along with county, state and federal law enforcement agencies announced last week the conclusion of a yearlong investigation into a large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering operation that stretched from Middletown throughout Ohio and extended as far as the West Coast.
As a result of the federal investigation and seizures, a federal grand jury has charged 12 people with possession of drugs, interstate travel (to) facilitate unlawful activities and money laundering conspiracy.
Here are some of the most interesting details from the federal indictment unsealed last week:
1. Officials posed as part of the operation
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Undercover FBI agents and task force officers posed as managers and employees of a world-wide criminal organization engaged in money laundering and drug trafficking for months to get evidence that led to the mass indictment of those they say dealt millions in heroin and fentanyl.
The FBI San Diego Cross Border Violence Task Force initiated the investigation putting undercover agents in contact with Jose Lopez-Albarran, a known cartel boss. Through investigation, it was learned the cartel was operating southern Ohio, led by co-conspirator, Donte Holdbrook. who primarily conducted fentanyl sales in Middletown, according to court records.
2. A single traffic stop was a key piece of the investigation
The pattern of transporting drugs and cash began in February 2017 and continued through Aug. 12, 2017 when Jettie Bailey and Courtney Bailey, who agents say were drug mules for Holdbrook, were stopped in Preble County by the Ohio Highway Patrol. Concealed in the fuel tank of a Honda Civic were six packages of narcotics, 2.962 kilograms of fentanyl mixture and 1,972 kilograms of heroin, according to court documents.
The drugs seized that day had a street value of $1.4 million, and the investigation traced the source to drug trafficking by the Sinaloa Drug Cartel in Mexico, officials said last week at a press conference.
3. Many agencies made large seizures
During the entire investigation, which included Middletown police, Ohio Highway Patrol, the Warren County Drug Task Force, Cincinnati police, the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI divisions in Cincinnati, Cleveland and San Diego, large quantities of drugs, money and weapons were seized.
4. Large chunks of cash were moved at a time
When a sizable amount of drug proceeds had been collected, the co-conspirators would arrange bulk cash transports back to Mexico, officials said. Investigators witnessed at least seven bulk cash pick-ups within the Southern District of Ohio, six on Tivoli Lane in Cincinnati and one at a Comfort Inn and Suites in West Chester. Transactions ranged from $25,000 to more than $180,000.
5. A single Middletown apartment was a key location in the alleged international operation.
An apartment on Aaron Drive was a key location in an international drug trafficking and money laundering ring for one of Mexico’s most notorious and powerful drug cartels, according to indictments
6. Who was charged? Those charged in the Cincinnati case are:
Jose Chavez-Meraz, AKA “Chema”, 55, Mexico
Rolando Chavez-Garcia, 24. Mexico
Favrisio Orozco-Meraz, AKA Favi, Gordo and Gordito, 34, Mexico
Raul Trejo Duende, 52, Middletown
Donte Holdbrook, AKA “Jay”, 24, Middletown
Mariela Penaloza, 25, Cleveland
Charleston Quinn Buddy, aka Buddy Rowe, 34, Mason
Frank Frazier, Jr., 24, Middletown,
Jesus Diaz Chuy, Chewey, 47, Ontario, Calif.
Jettie Bailey, 23, Middletown
Christopher Watkins, 23, Trenton
Courtney Bailey 24, Middletown
7. One of the indicted was a reserve police officer
Watkins was recruited by Jettie Bailey after Holdbrook requested he find “someone with a cleaner record” for a drug mule trip on June. Watkins was a police officer employed as a reserve officer by the Seven Mile Police Department, according to court documents.
“The group believed that Watkins’ law enforcement experience and police training would aid them in avoiding law enforcement detection while traveling with heroin/fentanyl,” the indictment states.
Seven Mile Police Chief Bill Back clarified information about Watkins on Friday via a Facebook post stating that he never actually worked for the village.
“Christopher Watkins at no time has ever had an active role as a police officer in Seven Mile. Watkins was approved by council and sworn in as a police officer but has never worked one minute in that position,” Back said in the post. “Actually, Watkins never returned to have his photo police ID made and I have not seen him since that council meeting. Watkins was removed from our roster of police officers last year.”