Three suspects accused in a large marijuana bust announced Tuesday have been indicted on drug trafficking charges, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Marco Ortiz-Barajas, 20, Fernando Morfin-Chavez, 43, and Angel Zamudio-Martinez, 54, all of Mexico, were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury.
Zamudio-Martinez was arrested Thursday morning and arraigned in Atlanta before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman. Ortiz-Barajas and Morfin-Chavez will be arraigned in Gainesville before U.S. Magistrate Susan S. Cole at a later date.
The men were charged with drug trafficking in a law enforcement operation that wound up April 12 in Gainesville. It resulted in the seizure of 1,572 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of $3.14 million, according to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
Juventino Morfin-Mendoza, 38, of Duluth; Jose Macias-Sanchez, 45, of Duluth; and Calvin Elwood Gearhart, 47, of Wichita, Kan., also were arrested in the case. Information about their court cases was not available Thursday.
The investigation began several weeks before the arrests on information developed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Information led us to believe that a tractor-trailer containing a large quantity of drugs” would arrive at a business in the 1700 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Lt. Scott Ware, commander of the Gainesville-Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad, said at a Tuesday press conference announcing the arrests.
“The truck did arrive (about 10:30 p.m.), as well as several other vehicles that were intended to unload contents of the truck,” he added.
Authorities obtained search and arrest warrants in the incident. Ware said the truck appeared to contain produce, including peppers, cactus and cilantro, but actually contained 106 sealed packages of marijuana.
Authorities believe “the load came out of Kansas via Mexico,” he added.
“(Homeland Security Investigations) works aggressively with our local partners to target the transnational criminal organizations smuggling drugs throughout our country and threatening public safety,” said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta.
“The significant size of this seizure indicates that Atlanta continues to be a major hub for drug trafficking, and we are committed to disrupting and disabling their ability to move their dangerous substances through our neighborhoods.”
During the search, law enforcement arrested Ortiz-Barajas and Morfin-Chavez on state charges.
The indictment charges Ortiz-Barajas and Morfin-Chavez with one count each of possession with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of marijuana. The indictment charges the two, along with Zamudio-Martinez, with one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of marijuana.
The charges each carry a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen V. Endrizzi is prosecuting the case.
“Drug trafficking often coexists with other criminal activity and endangers communities,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Yates in the news release. “The citizens of North Georgia, unfortunately, are not immune to such crime, but law enforcement is to be commended for its vigilance in protecting our communities.”