DENVER — The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced arrests and indictments in an eight-month investigation involving the seizure of more than 110,000 counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl on Wednesday.
David Olesky, DEA assistant special agent in charge of the Denver division, said the investigation into a Colorado-based drug trafficking network began in April.
18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner said indictments have been issued for 19 suspects, including 11 who have been taken into custody. In addition, two related defendants were identified and arrested after the indictments, the district attorney's office said.
In addition to the counterfeit pills, Olesky said the organization also trafficked methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, he said.
The organization, led by 30-year-old Saul Ramon Rivera-Beltran of Thornton, also funneled money outside of the United States through the use of guns and violence, according to Olesky.
Olesky also said investigators discovered links between the organization and the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, and they believe the majority of the counterfeit pills were manufactured in Mexico.
Rivera-Beltran, who is being held on a $1 million bond, coordinated the drug shipments and deals from Mexico, according to the district attorney's office.
The organizations distribution network in the region included Commerce City, Aurora, Denver, Thornton, Arvada and Lakewood and Kellner also said significant events also took place in Douglas and Arapahoe counties.
According to lab results, Olesky said two of every five pills on average were laced with enough fentanyl for a potentially lethal dose, meaning an estimated 40,000 lethal doses were kept off the streets.
Investigators discovered that the counterfeit pills can be manufactured in Mexico for four cents a pill, and sold in the Denver area wholesale for $3 a pill or retail for $10 to $20.
Kellner said the indictments target distributors in an effort to get them off the street, but that help is needed to address the source of the counterfeit pills.
"This poison is coming over from our southern border unchecked," Kellner said. "It will not stop coming over the border from Mexico into our communities until the federal government takes that porous border seriously.
In addition to the counterfeit pills, Olesky said six kilos of methamphetamine, eight pounds of heroin, 11 kilos of cocaine and about $450,000 in U.S. currency were also seized.
Investigators also took possession of 28 firearms, multiple hand grenades, high-capacity magazines and several sets of body armor, according to Olesky.
"This organization was preparing for a battle," Olesky said. "One which played out on multiple occasions throughout the investigation."
Investigators also discovered the suspects would fire guns out of car windows in a celebratory manner, and fired rounds in their backyard for fun, according to Olesky.
The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and multiple local law enforcement agencies assisted with the investigation.
The district attorney's office said the following defendants will be prosecuted in Douglas County:
- Saul Ramon Rivera-Beltran
- Samuel Padilla-Romo
- Jesus Tarango-Rodriquez
- Misael Acosta-Garcia
- Martin Ivan Trevizo
- Austin Peterson
- Christian Beltran-Beltran
- Gustavo Labrador Valderrama
- Luis Jacob Zytacua
- Amanda Fair Wynn Bidgood
- Juan Francis Sarabia-Mancinas
- Anita Kay Bateman
- Miguel Diarte
- Brayan Osiel Gonzales-Mancinas
- Jorge Escamilla
- Antonio Lorenzo Escamilla
- Ernestina Angela Montoya
- Cesar A Ortiz
- Alberto Sanchez Rodriguez
- Adrian Santana
- Nancy Vargas
According to the CDC, more than 100,000 Americans died from overdoses over the last year.
"That's a record number of drug overdoses in the history of tracking these types of statistics," Olesky said. "And the main driving force behind this overdose epidemic is the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl."
In Colorado, overdose deaths are up 34%.
"Unfortunately, overdoses have increased a lot in the past two years here in Denver and Colorado as a whole,” said Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Substance Abuse Coordinator Marion Rorke.
> Top stories from 9NEWS curated daily just for you! Sign up for the 9NEWSLETTER right now to get can’t-miss stories, Next and Broncos content, weather and more delivered right to your inbox.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Latest from 9NEWS
MORE WAYS TO GET 9NEWS
Subscribe to our daily 9NEWSLETTER for top stories from 9NEWS curated daily just for you. Get content and information right now for can’t-miss stories, Next and Broncos content, weather and more delivered right to your inbox.
HOW TO ADD THE 9NEWS APP TO YOUR STREAMING DEVICE
ROKU: add the channel from the ROKU store or by searching for KUSA.
For both Apple TV and Fire TV, search for "9NEWS" to find the free app to add to your account. Another option for Fire TV is to have the app delivered directly to your Fire TV through Amazon.