Malheur County suspects charged in drug case tied to Mexican cartels

BOISE – Four people from Malheur County are among 25 people indicted by federal authorities in a sweeping investigation of large-scale drug trafficking tied to Mexican drug cartels that was announced Monday, Aug. 21, by Idaho U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit.

The investigation, a combined operation between the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Idaho State Police, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office and the Caldwell Police Department, led to the seizure of nearly 100 pounds of methamphetamine, 21,000 fentanyl pills 531 grams of fentanyl powder, 38 firearms and more than $120,000 in cash.

The local individuals indicted in the operation included Efren Avilez-Lopez of Ontario, indicted for distributing 25 pounds of methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute 21 pounds of methamphetamine. Maria Medina-Zeveda, also of Ontario, was indicted for distributing 35 pounds of methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute 21 pounds of methamphetamine. Efren Alexander Avilez-Pacheco of Ontario was indicted on possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, fentanyl and cocaine and for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Cheyanne Juarez, Ontario, was indicted on one count of distribution of methamphetamine.

Avilez-Pacheco, a Mexican national, also faces violations of the terms of his supervised release connected to a 2019 federal drug trafficking conviction and his deportation to Mexico.

Illegal narcotics distribution charges carry mandatory minimum prison terms, depending on the amount and type of drugs distributed. Maximum prison sentences range from up to 20 years to life in prison. Unlawful possession of a firearm carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

The remaining 21 individuals charged with federal drug and gun violations are mostly from the Nampa-Boise-Caldwell area though at least one man is from Salem and one person from Payette.

“It is important to know that federal, state and local law enforcement are proactively working to dismantle drug trafficking enterprises in the Treasure Valley and elsewhere in Idaho,” Hurwit said at a news conference on Monday.

Matthew Gomm, the DEA assistant special agent in charge in Idaho, said the influx of illegal narcotics can be traced to Mexican cartels.

“The Jalisco cartel is one of the main cartels responsible for the influx of methamphetamine and fentanyl into our communities,” he said.

The Jalisco cartel – or the Jalisco New Generation Cartel – is considered to be Mexico’s second-most important illegal syndicate, behind the Sinaloa cartel. The Jalisco cartel is considered to be extremely violent.

“It is my hope the announcement of these indictments will help bring some clarity to the enormity of the dangers our citizens and law enforcement face on a daily basis by the increased criminality of transcontinental criminal organizations in our communities,” said Kieran Donahue, Canyon County Sheriff.

Travis Johnson, Malheur County Sheriff, said local police agencies also played a part in the long drug investigation.

“All the ones from Ontario, we helped work on those cases at different times and at different levels,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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