DENVER – Fifteen people linked to a Mexican cartel have been indicted by a grand jury for bringing liquid meth into Colorado inside factory-sealed water bottles with the liquid colored to look like flavored water or sports drinks.
“The importance of a factory seal is to protect it from oxygen to keep it from crystalizing,” Attorney General John Suthers explained during a Thursday briefing announcing the results of “Operation Thirst Quencher.”
The liquid inside the bottles were colored to mask the milky color of the meth, which were also transported inside the windshield washer fluid reservoirs of vehicles, Suthers said.
Photographs showed during the news conference included a 1.5 liter Be Light bottle that was seized on Feb. 5 at a border crossing in El Paso, Texas. Investigators allege it was being imported to Denver.
“The group used U.S. citizens to walk the bottles of meth across the border on a weekly basis,” Suthers said.
Barbara Roach, special agent-in-charge of the Denver division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said a pair of brothers living in Denver ran the organization. She identified them as Jose and Jesus Vargas-Gonzalez.
“The organization is linked to a powerful and very feared cartel called ‘The Knights Templar,'” she said. “The Knights Templar has aligned itself with probably one of the most powerful trafficking organizations, that’s the Sinaloa Cartel.”
On May 17, a traffic stop in Frisco, Calif. found six liters of liquid meth inside the windshield wiper fluid reservoir of a Chevrolet Tahoe. The drug in this case originated in Tijuana and was also allegedly being taken to Denver.
“Once the liquid meth was brought to Colorado, it was processed into crystalized meth by locally-based members of the enterprise,” Suthers explained.
Other provided photographs documented the search of a Denver home on July 2. Investigators found five pounds of the liquid drug, 1.5 pounds that had already been crystalized, $17,700 and a gun.
In that instance, the drug allegedly originated in Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico and entered the United States through a border crossing in El Paso, Texas.
A DEA task force supervisor, Rob Saccone, said one gallon of the liquid could potentially yield four pounds of solid methamphetamine. Lab tests found the drug is approximately 90 percent pure.
“It’s certainly very powerful and folks at the street level may not know how pure the drug is that they’re ingesting,” he said.
He also said it could be worth $10,000 or more per pound in Colorado. The street value could increase if it was transported from Colorado to the east coast.
Suthers said 11 of the individuals indicted as a result of the seven-month operation are currently in custody in the Denver area. The remaining four are still wanted.
Fourteen of the defendants face two counts of racketeering. Suthers explained that they face sentences of up to 24 years in prison for each count.
Suthers also alleged that, in one instance, two kilograms of cocaine were concealed in the oil pan of a Jeep by the same trafficking group.
The Attorney General’s office provided this partial list of the indicted suspects:
-Jesus Patricia Salas-Lucero
-Ana Rosa Vargas-Hernandez
-Jose Antonio Vargas-Gonzalez
-Jose Manual Cantano-Acosta