Sixteen defendants face cocaine-trafficking charges
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
This pipeline – one that allegedly funneled narcotics from Mexico through Southern Chester County and was fueled by people nicknamed Twinky and Pokey – needed to be severed, prompting the moniker Operation Tubería Rota, Spanish for Operation Broken Pipeline, said District Attorney Tom Hogan on Wednesday.
After a yearlong joint investigation among federal and local agencies, Hogan said sixteen defendants are in custody, having been charged with dealing cocaine.
“From my days as a federal prosecutor, we were aware that Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) run a pipeline of drugs up the East Coast, cutting through Southern Chester County,” Hogan said. “The DTOs hide their drug couriers among the law-abiding Latino population in Southern Chester County. Operation Tubería Rota sends a loud message to the Mexican DTOs: We know where you are, we are coming after you, and we will shut down your drug pipeline in Chester County.”
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge David G. Dongilli said the investigation confirmed that Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have infiltrated communities throughout Pennsylvania.
“The defendants in this case established a drug distribution network responsible for distributing significant quantities of cocaine in Chester County,” said Dongilli. “The DEA will continue to use all of its resources to confront these drug organizations with our law enforcement partner-agencies.”
Hogan likened the drug-traffickers to cockroaches, who scuttle away when the light gets shined on them. He said he expected some would return – at their own peril. “We’ll be waiting for them with open arms,” he said. Unlike other drug cartels, most of the Mexican operatives keep regular jobs, he said. “They do not want to attract any attention,” Hogan said. “They want to blend in.”
Weapons are not typically part of the operation until competition emerges, he said. “Once they get a toehold and are threatened, then they’re extremely violent,” he said, adding that the defendants in this case were not armed. He said they worked in two groups who had separate territories but sometimes cooperated with each other. “When one would run dry, the other would supply them [with drugs],” Hogan said.
Hogan said the following defendants face charges that include drug delivery, conspiracy, and related offenses, in connection with Operation Tubería Rota: Daniel Ramirez, 28, of Nottingham; Miguel Luna-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Gallo”, 44, of Nottingham; Martin Romero-Cruz, 30, of Oxford; Miguel Lara-Zavala, a/k/a “Twinky”, 44, of Kennett Square; Abel Francisco Tinoco-Guitierrezz, 42, of Chadds Ford; Martin Zavala-Zavala, 36, of Coatesville; David Mora, 31, of Reading; Erick Orihuela-Solalinde, 29, of Reading; Moise Lantigua-Ayala, a/k/a “Moi”, 29, of Reading; Fidencio Avalos, a/k/a “La Tusa”, 42, of Kennett Square; Jonathan Garcia Sanchez, a/k/a “Cesar”, 25, of Wilmington, De.; Jesus Zamora-Zamora, 40, of Wilmington, De.; Benjamin Lara-Medina, 38, of Wilmington, De.; Cesar Morales Castillo, a/k/a “Rafael Castaneda” and “Chicles”, 32, of Wilmington, De.; Jose Rocha-Luna, a/k/a “Pokey,” 25, of Wilmington, De.; and Jose Miranda Garcia, a/k/a “Mario”, 29, of Newark, De.
Law enforcement infiltrated the drug-traffickers using multiple confidential sources, who were able to make direct purchases of cocaine, Hogan said. The police then used wiretaps of the drug dealers’ phones to establish contacts and patterns of activity. The investigation discovered that these defendants had direct ties to Mexico and throughout the United States, intersecting with other drug investigations, said Hogan.
According to the criminal complaint for Mora, Luna-Rodriguez made at least 38 deliveries of cocaine to 14 customers from July 4, 2012, to Aug. 30, 2012, usually speaking in cryptic language and arranging a delivery at public places such as convenience stores and discount chains. Mora supplied the cocaine for about $1,000 an ounce, the complaint said. When confronted by detectives, Luna-Rodriguez acknowledged that they spoke in code, the complaint said. For example, references to getting “work” they meant cocaine, the complaint said.
Hogan said some of the defendants were charged in Chester County and some were charged in federal court in Delaware by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, depending on the defendants’ main geographic area of operation. Some also face deportation hearings, Hogan said.
The Chester County District Attorney’s Office, which initiated the investigation, received assistance from the Chester County Detectives, the Chester County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Strike Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Kennett Square Police Department, the East Whiteland Police Department, the Coatesville Police Department, Delaware State Police, Pennsylvania State Police, the Reading Police Department, and Berks County Detectives, Hogan said.
“This operation was a model of law enforcement cooperation and communication. Because Chester County is such a large county, bordering four other counties and two states, we need to coordinate resources with neighboring law enforcement agencies to combat these drug-trafficking organizations,” said Hogan. “We will continue to use all of our resources to keep these criminals out of Chester County.”