BREMERTON — A narcotics pipeline exposed this month after a nearly three-year investigation shows how money from local drug users heads to Mexico, with meth and possibly heroin heading back to Kitsap County and nearby communities.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, the investigation started in February 2014 by the local narcotics task force, WestNET and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Documents claim that the alleged leader of the network, Jose Ernesto Mozqueda Vasquez, 34, of Chehalis, had connections in Kitsap, Mason, Thurston and Pierce counties.
Kitsap County Superior Court records show that in 2012 Mozqueda was living in Bremerton with his wife.
Mozqueda’s arrest was announced Dec. 19, along with the arrest of 18 others, including a Port Orchard woman and a Bremerton woman who documents say were suspected “redistributors” for Mozqueda.
Other arrests were spread through the West Sound and South Sound regions, including arrests of residents of Poulsbo, Gig Harbor, Shelton, Hoodsport, Olympia and Centralia, along with others in Arizona and California.
After the arrests, officials reported seizing about 44 pounds of meth, 50 guns and $50,000 in cash. Previous seizures from the network include about 5 pounds of meth and $28,000.
A media release announcing the busts focused on meth, though court documents say Mozqueda’s network had recently started distributing heroin.
The relative significance of 44 pounds to the regional supply of meth is unclear, but some context is provided in court documents.
Earlier in the operation, investigators believe Mozqueda arranged to sell 20 pounds of meth to a 51-year-old Gig Harbor man about once a month for $70,000, according to documents. For further context, a suspected street-level dealer arrested Dec. 14 had about 77 grams of meth in his Bremerton motel room, a fraction of the amount seized in the Mozqueda bust. Also found in his room was 91 grams of heroin.
It’s also unclear whether the seizure and the disruption of the network would amount to more than a temporary break in supply.
Information on the surveillance comes from a federal court complaint for a man who allegedly transported meth across the Mexican border on behalf of a supplier in Mexico known only as Felix. The courier was allegedly Mozqueda’s contact.
A researcher at the University of Washington said although 44 pounds is a lot of meth, it likely amounts to a fraction of the weight that moves through Washington.
In its absence, another drug network can be expected to take its place, said Caleb Banta-Green, an affiliate associate professor for the UW’s School of Public Health.
He said for a while users might notice a disruption in their supply, with some having difficulty finding the drug or having to pay more.
However, Banta-Green said importers are motivated and, with suddenly decreased supply, it could create a vacuum and opportunity for others to turn a profit by meeting the local demand for narcotics.
“There is probably somebody making up for it right now,” he said.
A Drug Enforcement Administration official told the Kitsap Sun, without commenting on the Mozqueda case, it is important to hold those who bring drugs into the community accountable.
The special agent in charge of the Seattle Field Division, Keith Weiss, said disrupting supply chains, along with prevention and treatment strategies, hamper the market for meth, a drug he said is associated with violence and property crime.
“It’s really our effort to slow down the flow into the system,” he said. “To do that we have to target the right people who are most responsible for leading the distribution into our communities.”
Weiss added, “These are the people most responsible for creating the violence and havoc on the streets.”
Weiss said other networks working with competing cartels in Mexico likely have inroads to the Pacific Northwest. Re-establishing the market in smaller communities tends to take longer than in larger communities, he said.
Meth, a powerful stimulant, used to be associated with clandestine manufacturing labs, sometimes operating out of residences. After federal and state governments began cracking down on the availability of precursor chemicals in the early 2000s, production moved south of the border with ingredients likely being imported from China, Banta-Green said.
Additionally, Banta-Green said the supply routes established to meet the local demand for meth now double as supply routes for heroin, for which demand bloomed more recently following crackdowns on the distribution of prescription painkillers.
In documents for the man suspected of bringing the meth across the border, an agent describes a casual approach to business. This month, Mozqueda and an associate took their wives and children on the car trip to California to make a deal in an Anaheim pet store parking lot. The intent, investigators believe, was to exchange money for 32 pounds of meth and drive back to Washington state.
Aside from using code words for drugs and money, the dealers communicated about business in an everyday fashion, intercepted phone calls and text messages show. They discuss worries about delays, reminders to not forget items, instructions to keep secret from the courier the cost of a shipment and being mindful of the bottom line.
In one text exchange, Mozqueda reminds Felix that each meet up comes with shipping costs.
“The mailman charges by the trip and that’s a loss for us,” Mozqueda texted to Felix, according to the documents.
An investigation begun by the Drug Enforcement Administration and West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team in February 2014 resulted Thursday in the arrest of 19 people with ties to a methamphetamine distribution ring, U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes announced.
Law enforcement officers served 24 search warrants in Washington and Arizona. More than 20 vehicles were searched. On Thursday, they seized more than 44 pounds of methamphetamine, more than 50 firearms and more than $50,000 in cash. Previous seizures associated with the drug ring include more than 5 pounds of meth and more than $28,000.
Kitsap Peninsula residents charged in the indictment include: Andrea Lynn Natins, 41, and Kimberly Brooke Gray, 36, of Port Orchard; Rebecca Sue Godsalve, 52, of Bremerton; Mark Agnew, 51, and Derek Johnson, 29, of Gig Harbor; and Isaela Pacheco Centeno, 22, of Poulsbo.
Others charged are: Karen Kenmir, 55, William Hagmann, 54, and Jon Daniel Brownfield, 58, of Shelton; Teresa Goos, 55, of Hoodsport; Ernesto Luna Vasquez, 44, of Kelso; Collin Mesinas, 28, of Olympia; Jose Ernesto Masqueda Vasquez, 34, Antonio De La Mora, 41, Juan Salud Garcia, 30, and Violetta Rosalia Guadarrama, 32, of Centralia; Maria Centeno Gallegos, 37, of Chehalis; Jesus Beltran, 34, of Phoenix; and Gerardo Enrique Flores, 26, of Chula Vista, California.
The searches and arrests were led by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, Arizona, and California, and involved local officers from the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team, Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and Bremerton Police Department.