13 suspected of drug trafficking arrested

PHOENIX, Dec. 26, 2013

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Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman, along with U.S. Border Patrol Agent in Charge Sabri Dikman, and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Dawn Mertz, announced Dec. 17 the arrests of 12 of 13 suspected members of the Luis Armando Cruz Drug Trafficking Organization, who works on behalf of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, according to a DEA news release.

The operation was part of a 12-month multi-agency law enforcement investigation known as "Operation Kruz Control."

Since Oct. 12, 2012, Luis Armando Cruz has been identified as the Phoenix-based transportation cell working for the Sinaloa Cartel. Cruz is responsible for coordinating importation of multi-thousand pounds of marijuana from Mexico (primarily through the Agua Prieta corridor) into New Mexico and Arizona and the smuggling of bulk drug proceeds back into Mexico. The Cruz DTO uses multiple load drivers and backpackers to facilitate drug transportation operations in the remote desert area near San Simon and Willcox, Arizona for further delivery to Tucson and Phoenix.

"DEA and its partners are successfully striking back at drug traffickers who use the Arizona corridor to move their drugs into the United States and their illicit proceeds back to Mexico," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. "This investigation identified a transportation cell that used human backpackers to smuggle thousands of pounds of marijuana across the Arizona/Mexico border. The message to these criminals should be clear--use the cross border area at your own risk."

On Dec. 13, 2013, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducted simultaneous arrest and search warrants on suspected members of the drug trafficking organization and their stash houses in Phoenix and Willcox, Ariz. During Friday's enforcement action, agents seized 1, 400 pounds of marijuana, 7 rifles, 2 handguns, a shotgun, 2 homes, 9 vehicles, an ATV Quad, and a bank account.

In addition to Friday's enforcement action, "Operation Kruz Control" has led to the seizure of $200,000 U.S Currency, 6,500 pounds of marijuana, 6 vehicles and a King Quad ATV.

"We are very proud of Willcox station agents' contributions to this operation," said Sabri Dikman, Patrol Agent in Charge of the Willcox Border Patrol station. "Border security is truly a joint effort. Working together with our law enforcement partners enhances our ability to take down criminal organizations resulting in safer communities."

"This is yet another example of multiple agencies working together to tackle and dismantle a sophisticated drug trafficking organization. Special Agents with IRS-CI have the knowledge and expertise necessary to understand and unravel a variety of complex financial transactions," said Dawn Mertz, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Office of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.

On Dec. 11, a federal grand jury in Phoenix returned a seven-count indictment against Luis Armando Cruz and 12 other members of the organization.

Those arrested were Luis Armando Cruz, 39; Carlos Antonio Garcia, 31; Sergio Garcia-Morales, 32; Alma Dolores Escalante-Figueroa (wife of Cruz), 39; Felipe Escalante-Reyes, 22; Carime Itsel Reyes-Escalante, 19; Carlos Ramirez, 42; Sergio Robert Ramos-Moreno, 19; Trevon Xavier Marcus-Bondae, 18; Maxine Carter, 25; and Jeremiah Steven Woolsey, 24.

The investigation has linked multiple drug seizures since December 2012 totaling over 27,000 pounds of marijuana to the Cruz DTO.

On Dec. 16, all 12 defendants were arraigned in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven P. Logan and remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals.

Shiprock man pleads guilty to manslaughter

WINDOW ROCK - Elvan Hovel, 42, who resides in Shiprock pleaded guilty to a voluntarily manslaughter charge in federal district court Thursday under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Hovel was arrested in Aug. 2013, based on a criminal complaint charging him with second-degree murder and subsequently charged in an indictment in Sept. 2013 with voluntary manslaughter. According to court filings, on July 22, 2012, Hovel pushed a 48-year-old Navajo woman who was intoxicated into an irrigation canal where the victim drowned.

In his plea agreement, Hovel admitted killing the victim. Hovel pushed the victim into an irrigation canal at a time when the two were intoxicated and arguing. Hovel did not make any effort to rescue the victim as he watched her float away in the canal and go under.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Hovel will be sentenced to five years in federal prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. He remains in custody pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

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