Federal Indictment Charges Eight with Participating in Major Marijuana Trafficking and Money Laundering Ring
ALBUQUERQUE—A federal grand jury has indicted eight individuals on marijuana trafficking and money laundering charges based on an investigation by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation into a New Mexico-based organization that allegedly distributed high-grade marijuana throughout New Mexico and across the country over a period of at least eight years. Five of the eight defendants were arrested yesterday during a multi-agency law enforcement operation that included arrests in New Mexico and California and the execution of numerous search and seizure warrants in New Mexico.
In announcing the indictment and the results of yesterday’s law enforcement operation, U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said, “This indictment should serve as a reminder that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a very serious crime. The Justice Department continues to enforce the marijuana trafficking laws especially when illegal marijuana trafficking provides a significant source of revenue for drug trafficking organizations as alleged in this indictment.”
“Yesterday, a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, dismantled a major drug-trafficking and money-laundering organization whose tentacles reached across New Mexico and beyond,” said Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division. “The FBI is proud to have helped take a significant quantity of drugs off our streets and seize the ill-gotten proceeds of this criminal enterprise. I want to thank the FBI special agents and professional staff for their hard work, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, IRS Criminal Investigation, New Mexico State Police, Pecos Valley Narcotics Task Force, Albuquerque Police Department and Fresno County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office.”
“Yesterday’s operation reflects the collaborative efforts of local, state, and federal agencies. IRS Special Agents will continue to lend their expertise in detecting the complex financial transactions used by transnational organized criminal groups to launder their ill-gotten gains” said Ismael Nevarez Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Office of IRS-Criminal Investigation.
The 26-count indictment, which was unsealed earlier today, is the result of a two-year investigation into a drug trafficking organization allegedly led by Enrique Cavazos, 29, of Tijeras, N.M., that allegedly cultivated and purchased high-grade marijuana in California and distributed the marijuana throughout the country and laundered its drug proceeds through a number of businesses and bank accounts. The investigation was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
The indictment alleges that Enrique Cavazos, his wife Lindsey Cavazos, and six co-conspirators participated in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy that existed from at least Jan. 2008 through Nov. 2015, and operated in the District of New Mexico and elsewhere. According to the indictment, Enrique Cavazos operated his marijuana trafficking business by directing co-conspirators to purchase large quantities of marijuana in California and distribute the marijuana in New Mexico and other destinations across the country. It also alleges that Cavazos and a co-conspirator purchased property in Leggett, Calif., in 2011 for the purpose of growing marijuana for distribution by Cavazos’ organization.
According to the indictment, Lindsey Cavazos was responsible for keeping the books on businesses she and her husband allegedly established with proceeds from their marijuana trafficking activities and for the purpose of laundering their drug proceeds. The indictment charges the couple with engaging in a money laundering conspiracy and using bank accounts in the names of several of their businesses, including a restaurant and a car dealership, to launder their drug proceeds.
The indictment includes forfeiture provisions that seek to forfeit to the United States any and all property derived, either directly or indirectly, from proceeds obtained from the criminal activity charged in the indictment including:
- The Tijeras, N.M., residence of Enrique and Lindsey Cavazos;
- Two parcels of real property located on Grand Avenue in Las Vegas, N.M.;
- Two parcels of real property located on 12th Street in Las Vegas, N.M.;
- A parcel of real property located on Grant Street in Las Vegas, N.M;
- A parcel of real estate located at 8th Street and Sperry Street in Las Vegas, N.M.;
- A business suite located on Central Avenue, NW, in Albuquerque, N.M.;
- The funds in eight bank accounts in the names of companies owned and controlled by Enrique and Lindsey Cavazos and one bank account in the name of a company owned and controlled by a co-conspirator;
- A diamond ring owned by Lindsey Cavazos;
- $319,300.00 in cash; and
- The fixtures and equipment located at Café Bien, a restaurant on Central Avenue, SW, in Albuquerque, N.M., that is owned and operated by Enrique and Lindsey Cavazos.
During yesterday’s enforcement operation, officers executed search warrants at residences in Albuquerque, Carlsbad and Tijeras, two offices in Albuquerque, a restaurant in downtown Albuquerque, two offices in Albuquerque, a car dealership in northeast Albuquerque, and a storage unit in Las Vegas, N.M. They also served seizure warrants on eight bank accounts and a restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., and served a restraining order on one bank account. Items seized during yesterday’s law enforcement operation included: more than 100 pounds of marijuana; approximately $400,000.00 in cash; at least ten firearms, including one that was reported stolen; 22 vehicles, including 20 seized from a car dealership in Albuquerque; and a motorcycle and a fifth-wheel trailer. In addition to yesterday’s seizures, law enforcement officers seized approximately 150 pounds of marijuana and more than $437,000.00 in cash during the course of the investigation.
The investigation leading to the indictment was conducted by the Albuquerque offices of the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation. The Albuquerque Police Department, HIDTA Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, New Mexico State Police and Fresno County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office assisted the FBI and IRS with today’s law enforcement operation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer M. Rozzoni is prosecuting the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is handling the forfeiture matters.
Indictment in United States v. Enrique S. Cavazos, et al., 15-CR-4087
Defendants Charged in Indictment
- Enrique Cavazos, 29, is a resident of Tijeras, N.M., who owns and operates several businesses including Café Bien, a restaurant in downtown Albuquerque and Love Auto, a car dealership on Lomas Blvd., NE, in Albuquerque. Cavazos was arrested yesterday in Tijeras.
- Lindsey Cavazos, 30, is a resident of Tijeras, N.M., who is married to Enrique Cavazos. Together with her husband, she owns and operates several businesses, including Café Bien and Love Auto. Lindsey A. Cavazos was arrested yesterday in Tijeras.
- Joaquin Alaniz, 38, is a pharmacist in Carlsbad, N.M. He was arrested yesterday in Carlsbad.
- Daniel Nieto, 28, of Carlsbad, N.M., has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive.
- Antonio Ruelas, 31, of Algodones, N.M., was arrested yesterday in Rio Rancho. N.M.
- Felix Cavazos, 47, of Albuquerque, N.M., is the father of Enrique S. Cavazos. He has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive.
- Eliberto Navia, 34, of Madera, Calif., was arrested this morning in Madera, and will be transferred to New Mexico to face the charges against him.
- Robert Moreno, 35, of Ukiah, Calif., has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive.
Summary of the Charges
Count 1 of the Indictment charges all eight defendants with conspiracy to distribute marijuana in the District of New Mexico and elsewhere from at least Jan. 2008 through Nov. 2015. For Enrique Cavazos, Lindsey Cavazos, Alaniz and Nieto, the maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for not less than ten years or more than life. For Ruelas, Felix Cavazos, Navia and Moreno, the maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for not less than five years or more than 40 years. For eight of the defendants, the maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is not more than 20 years of imprisonment.
Count 2 charges Alaniz with attempting to possess marijuana with intent to distribute in Bernalillo County, N.M., on April 27, 2015. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for five years.
Counts 3 through 7 charge Enrique Cavazos with distributing marijuana on five occasions: July 11, 2014, July 24, 2014, Aug. 29, 2014, Nov. 24, 2014 and Jan. 30, 2015. Four distributions allegedly occurred in Bernalillo County, N.M. Ruelas is also charged with the Nov. 24, 2015 distribution which allegedly occurred in Santa Fe County, N.M. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for five years.
Count 8 charges Nieto with possessing hashish oil with intent to distribute in Eddy County, N.M., on May 20, 2015. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for five years.
Count 9 charges Nieto with using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in Eddy County, N.M., on May 20, 2015. A conviction on this count is a mandatory minimum of five years of imprisonment which must be served consecutive to any sentence imposed on other charges.
Count 10 charges Enrique Cavazos and Felix Cavazos with maintaining a place, identified as a residence in southeast Albuquerque, N.M., from Jan. 2015 through Nov. 2015 for the purpose of distributing marijuana. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years.
Counts 11 through 13 charge Enrique Cavazos with using communications facilities (telephones) on three occasions in Oct. 2015 to further the commission of drug trafficking crimes. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for not more than four years.
Count 14 charges Enrique Cavazos and Lindsey Cavazos with engaging in a money laundering conspiracy from Nov. 2009 through Nov. 2015. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on this count is imprisonment for 20 years.
Counts 15 and 22 charge Lindsey Cavazos with money laundering and Counts 16 through 19, 21 and 24 through 26 charge Enrique Cavazos with money laundering. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for 20 years.
Count 20 charges Enrique Cavazos with structuring bank deposits on Dec. 10, 2010, for the purpose of evading currency reporting requirements and Count 23 charges both Enrique Cavazos and Lindsey Cavazos with committing that same offense on March 25, 2013. The maximum statutory penalty for a conviction on each of these counts is imprisonment for five years.
Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Photographs of the three fugitives—Daniel Nieto, Felix Cavazos and Robert Moreno—are attached to this press release. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of this/these fugitive(s) is asked to contact the Albuquerque FBI (24 hours) at (505) 889-1300. Tips also can be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.