In what authorities said may be the biggest drug bust in state history, officers seized more than 5 tons of marijuana and $4.3 million in drug money in a six-month investigation, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said Monday.
Officials said the investigation began on March 6, based on information they had received that drugs were being run from a Mexican grocery store on Indianapolis' west side.
A tractor-trailer search resulted in the seizure of $2.6 million that was in a false roof, Hogsett said. The money was not claimed and was distributed to several law enforcement agencies
earlier this month.
Police said they found another $500,000 and gathered key information connected to the central Indiana drug ring in an Oct. 11 traffic stop in Arkansas.
Information gleaned from that investigation led police to Jairo Ramirez, 26, Efren Perez, 20, and Julio Cesar Castaneda, 36. Hogsett said the three men frequently visited a warehouse on Indianapolis' west side.
A raid of the warehouse happened on Oct. 17, after Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Indianapolis police who had staked out the facility said they saw the men enter the warehouse.
A K-9 was called in, alerting police to the presence of marijuana, and a search warrant was served, leading to the discovery of five large metal storage containers that authorities said were filled with packages of marijuana.
Police said they later found that a fourth man was involved in the operation -- Tomas Toledo, 29. According to the U.S. attorney, he was driving a van that left the warehouse and had 600 pounds of marijuana with him.
Castaneda, Perez and Ramirez were taken into custody, and agents found $425,000 in Ramirez's house that they said was also connected to the warehouse.
"This was not an accidental find. This was some incredible police work from the very best DEA agents and the very best police detectives," said Rick Frank with Metro Drug Task Force.
Police said the money -- $4.3 million -- was on the way to Mexican drug cartels and that a total of 10,500 pounds of marijuana was seized.
Ramirez, Perez, Castaneda and Toledo are facing federal drug charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distributing 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana. Castaneda and Toledo were also in the country illegally, police said.
"Our office will vigorously prosecute these defendants based on the evidence presented," Hogsett said. "Not only will taking these drugs off the street have a profound direct effect on this community, I am also proud to announce that the millions in cash taken from the Mexican drug lords will help fund public safety efforts."
Police estimated that the bulk value of the marijuana was $5 million, but its street value could have been much more.
"So all that violence that could have come with those narcotic transactions, this seizure and this arrest literally stopped thousands of narcotics deals as this quantity of narcotics would have filtered down into different drugs or different transactions," said Rick Frank, of the Metro Drug Task Force.
If convicted, the men face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail and the possibility of up to a life sentence.
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