They go by aliases like “Bombas” or “Bombs.” “Piratatita,” or “Little Pirate.” “Gordo” or “Fat.” One goes by “Primo” or “Cousin.” Another “Tio” or “Uncle.”
They, along with 13 others, are now each considered to have been part of a $7 million methamphetamine conspiracy linked by law enforcement officials to Mexican drug cartels. And at least three of them allegedly used a rural Douglas County property to produce the illegal drug.
Roosters still crow at the vacated rural Eudora property at 2174 N. 700 Road. Two black and white dogs also still roam freely, months after the property was raided and neighbors stopped seeing anyone near the house, save for a caretaker who allegedly looks after the animals.
On Thursday afternoon, after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas unsealed an indictment dated Dec. 4 that linked the home’s most recent residents to a multimillion-dollar meth conspiracy, no one was home but the animals and scores of everyday household and decorative items that were left behind. A window without curtains revealed several large upturned couches.
Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez, 48, Monica Ortiz, 34, and Benito Olivas-Yanez, 34, are each charged with using the property to produce methamphetamine intended for distribution from May 1 to Aug. 3. Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez is still listed by Douglas County as the owner of the property, and there’s even record of him having paid $1,270.82 in taxes on Nov. 18.
The three also face charges of conspiracy and possessing more than 50 grams of the drug with intent to distribute it on Aug. 2 alongside Raul Vidal Ramirez-Florez. Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez is also accused of using a cellphone to facilitate a meth deal on Aug. 12.
All three were born in Mexico, and Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez and Monica Ortiz-Soto married on June 19, 2009, in Baldwin City, according to Douglas County District Court records.
They’ve run afoul of the law before.
The three have histories in Wyandotte County, with each having been booked into Wyandotte County Jail several times between 2002 and 2007, mostly on suspicion of DUIs and domestic battery. In 2004, Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez was booked on suspicion of illegal gambling.
And in Douglas County, Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez pleaded guilty in 2011 to felony cockfighting violations and was sentenced to probation after a 2009 raid on the property ended with the seizure of more than 100 animals.
It wouldn’t be the last time authorities would visit the home.
Paving the way for arrests
When the Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit raided Olivas-Yanez’s home this summer and seized nearly 25 pounds of methamphetamine — the largest total ever seized in the county — along with several thousand dollars in cash and a 9 mm handgun, police identified suspects but did not make immediate arrests.
The decision was made by investigators with an eye toward a larger case: the one now headed toward prosecution in federal court.
According to court documents, at least seven of the 18 indicted are in federal custody, their arrests taking place between Wednesday and Thursday.
The arrest of Eliser Lopez-Arenas in Oakland, Calif., kicked off this week’s activity. So far confirmed by court documents are two arrests in Kansas City, Kan., three in Kansas City, Mo., and another — Manuel Lopez-Deharo — in Bonner Springs on Wednesday. Lopez-Arenas (“Primo”), Humberto Rascon-Frias (“Tio”), Stephen Eugene Rowlette, Jose Alejandro Ruiz (“Pancho”), Alejandro Santos-Valderama, Manuel Lopez-Deharo and Fidel Carlos Zavala are those so far confirmed in federal custody.
Zavala is one of two men who also face federal gun charges as part of the case. He is accused of possessing a Colt Mark IV .380 caliber handgun in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes in early December 2012.
Each of the 18 indicted could face penalties of up to life in prison and fines ranging from $250,000 to $10 million.
Filling a niche
Olivas-Yanez’s property fit the usual profile of ideal real estate for Mexican cartel affiliates in the United States.
“They want to stay underground and off the radar,” said Erik Smith, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the Kansas City area.
When Lawrence police unveiled the meth bust in August, Sgt. Trent McKinley, a police spokesman, told reporters that investigators had made a clear connection to Mexican cartels, the latest in a string of connections between the enterprises and the United States.
In February, Chicago named the notorious Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Public Enemy No. 1, the first such distinction handed down by the city since Al Capone in 1930. Guzman helms the Sinaloa cartel, thought to be Mexico’s most powerful organized crime operation. And though the bulk of the damage done by Mexican cartels has occurred south of the border — conservative estimates put the number killed at 60,000 since 2007 — the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward for Guzman’s capture and wants him extradited to face trial here if he is ever caught alive.
But Smith said that at least four major Mexican cartels have a well-established presence in the Kansas City metro area. And at least in some degree, he said, “all cartels have a presence here.”
Laws passed in Kansas in 2005 and 2009 put up to 80 percent of the state’s meth labs out of work because they made it harder to buy bulk quantities of key ingredients, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. This created a demand that Mexican cartels positioned themselves to fill, Smith said.