Record 208 pounds of meth seized in bust


Like some scene from a Martin Scorsese movie, 208 pounds of methamphetamine covered the table, heaped high in bulging zipper bags and stacked plastic containers. A shotgun and five handguns, one with a silencer, topped the pile.

But this was the real deal, the largest meth bust in Nevada history equaling $5.7 million in street value, said Paul Rozario, an assistant special agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, while standing behind the table at a Thursday news conference in the DEA's Las Vegas headquarters.

Officers also seized 4 pounds of heroin, $280,000 in cash and nine vehicles in the Tuesday bust that ended without injury.

As of Thursday, nine arrests had been made in the case.

The state's previous meth-bust record was set 15 months ago when 70 pounds of California meth was seized, just a third of Tuesday's spoils.

A task force of local and federal investigators confiscated the drugs Tuesday in a coordinated raid of five homes that were all part of the same Mexican operation discovered in January, which sparked the seven-month investigation, Rozario said.

Search warrants were served at 2737 Quaker Ridge Road, near Nellis Boulevard and Vegas Valley Drive; 9655 Las Vegas Blvd. South, apartment No. 280, north of Silverado Ranch Boulevard; and 1469 Midnight Cowboy Court, near Owens Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, in Las Vegas. A warrant was also served in Henderson at 668 Hitchen Post Drive, near Broadbent Boulevard and Russell Road. Police had not released the fifth address by late Thursday.

The drugs were manufactured in Mexico and transported here, said Rozario, DEA assistant special agent in charge.

The seized vehicles had several secret smuggling compartments.

Investigators suspect the operation had ties to a specific Mexican cartel but did not provide details. It's just "speculation" at this point, Rozario said.

The group was responsible for smuggling large amounts of meth from Mexico into Nevada every month.

Only a few meth operations of this size are thought to exist in the area, said Rozario, who touted the bust as a significant blow to meth dealing in Nevada.

Most of the meth sold in the state is smuggled here.

The nine arrests included the organization's suspected leader, Oscar Cavadas.

Law enforcement officials initially said at a news conference Thursday morning that officers had arrested 11 people, but a press release sent out later in the day by Las Vegas police said two individuals were expected to be arrested soon.

Cavadas, a 26-year-old Mexican national, slipped by law enforcement on June 6 when police learned he would be supplying a customer known as Tony.

Police tailed Tony until he met Cavadas and they drove to the Las Vegas Boulevard apartment. There, detectives saw Cavadas hand over a black trash bag, but Tony identified detectives in the area and ran, as did Cavadas.

Six days later, detectives received another tip that Cavadas would receive a meth shipment and the runner who delivered it would be heading back to California.

Detectives saw an Infiniti with California plates leave the house at Midnight Cowboy Court and stopped it down the road. They found $270,000 cash.

A short time later, Cavadas left the house and was also stopped and taken into custody without incident.

About 40 pounds of meth was found in the master bathroom's makeshift conversion lab, a 20-gallon pot containing a solution of acetone and mineral water.

Of those arrested Tuesday, eight are illegal Mexican immigrants, including Cavadas, according to The Associated Press.

They are Jorge Loza, 26; Armando Lara, 37; Sergio Vieyra-Medrano, 37; Felix Roman, 27; Salvador Garibo, 27; Cecilia Salgado, 55; and Alejandro Gomez, 31.

Mayra Torres, 28, of California was also arrested.

"You are finding more and more that these drug-trafficking organizations are pushing inland," said Rozario, who noted that meth is the most prevalent street drug in Nevada behind marijuana. "Meth is a huge problem here, as it is across the country."

Users can take it orally, snort it, inject it or smoke it.

The officers responsible for the raids belong to the Southern Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, consisting of officers from the DEA, Nevada Highway Patrol and the police departments of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder City.

"Our partnership is what makes this work," said Richard Collins, bureau commander for the Metropolitan Police Department in Las Vegas, while members of all the departments stood behind him in the DEA office. "Besides being a record raid, this shows what people think they can get away with in this community. We will do everything in our power to prevent this."

Those arrested will face drug-trafficking and related charges, police said.

Nevada isn't the only state breaking meth-bust records.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officers pulled over a Ford pickup 130 miles northwest of Tucson in May, finding 217 pounds of meth and 4 pounds of heroin, worth a total of $4 million in street value. That set an Arizona record.

Officers arrested the driver and passenger, who were from San Luis, Ariz., on the Mexican border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

 

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