Those in Telluride during the raid witnessed a swarm of officers taping off the area surrounding the taco cart and an adjacent restaurant, while investigators searched inside both premises. Enrique Hernandez and Gilberto Garcia Garcia were later arrested in Telluride for firearms and drug charges. Meanwhile, officers awaiting the completion of a suspected drug transaction in the Montrose Target parking lot surrounded a vehicle containing Telluride residents Eric Cristobal Sanchez; his wife, Maria Vargas Gonzalez, and Marico Antonio Garcia-Garcia. The three surrendered to the officers at gunpoint.
Eleven agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Seventh Judicial District Drug Task Force, were involved in the coordinated raids, which netted four firearms and more than 15 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $900,000.
After a December ruling that Vargas Gonzales was not heavily involved in the Taco Cart drug ring, she was released from jail and deported back to Mexico. Vargas Gonzales was incarcerated while pregnant and is the mother of two children.
The other four suspects face a multitude of federal charges. In the course of the investigation, officers came to suspect that firearms purchased in the U.S. were being sent to Mexico in exchange for cocaine. Complaints from neighbors triggered the investigation, which lasted for more than a year.
In an earlier and apparently unrelated investigation, six of 11 Western Slope members of the La Familia Drug Trafficking Organization were arrested on Oct. 22 for cocaine distribution charges. Those arrests were the culmination of a 44-month, muli-agency investigation across the country.
According to a statement, “Operation Coronado” had led to a “takedown of La Familia Cartel members and associates from across the United States.
“Seized in the Colorado branch of Operation Coronado were 8 kilograms of cocaine, 3 pounds of methamphetamine, and $313,785 in U.S. currency; Operation Coronado has resulted in the seizure of 11.7 tons of narcotics during its 44-month multi-agency investigation. A total of 303 individuals in 19 states were arrested by more than 3,000 agents and officers… to date, nationally, Operation Coronado has led to the arrest of 1,186 individuals and the seizure of approximately $32.8 million in U.S. currency, and approximately 2,710 pounds of methamphetamine, 1,999 kilograms of cocaine, 29 pounds of heroin, 16,390 pounds of marijuana, 389 weapons, and 269 vehicles.” La Familia, originating in the impoverished Michoacan region along the central Pacific coast of Mexico, is presumed responsible for bodies and severed heads discovered inside 18 plastic bags in the bed of a truck found blocking a highway in the town of Tlapehuala earlier this month.
Five more cartel members or associates, who were indicted by the federal grand jury last July are now fugitives. La Familia made national headlines in 2006, after members threw five severed heads onto a dance floor in Morelia, the Michoacan capital. Tensions between the Mexican authorities and La Familia escalated this summer, when the government arrested dozens of local politicians accused of working for the cartel. In retaliation, cartel gunmen abducted 12 federal police officers and dumped their tortured bodies in a pile by the side of a highway.
“It is a priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to try and stop the flow of drugs from Mexico to Colorado,” said U.S. Attorney David Gaouette. “Thanks to the hard work of the DEA, in cooperation with local and state law enforcement agencies and task forces, drug dealers have been arrested and removed from the streets of the Western Slope.”