LA Taco Shop, Auto Repair Business Targeted in Federal Drug-Ring Takedown

A 10-month wiretap investigation led to the arrest of 17 defendants allegedly involved a Southern California drug ring tied to Mexican suppliers

By Melissa Pamer
|  Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012  |  Updated 5:07 PM PDT
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An alleged loose-knit Southern California drug ring linked to Mexico-based suppliers of cocaine, heroin and crystal meth was the target of a federal takedown Wednesday that netted 17 arrests at sites across the region.

The drugs seized in the case included "some of the most pure" methamphetamine federal authorities said they had ever seen.

Authorities have seized 135 pounds of methamphetamine, 15 kilograms of cocaine, 1.2 pounds of black tar heroin and $100,000 in cash in the investigation.

Forty-three defendants were named in federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday.

The complaint alleges four loosely related drug-distribution cells that operated in part out of a car repair business in North Hollywood and a taco shop in Van Nuys.

The arrests were the result of a 10-month wiretap investigation, according to a press release from Andre Birotte, the United States Attorney for Central District of California.

The investigation was a collaboration of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Torrance Police Department and IRS-Criminal Investigation.

"This investigation has dealt a serious blow to a trafficking network we believe was funneling significant quantities of high-grade methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin into the Los Angeles area," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles.

"Today’s arrests have disrupted a potentially deadly supply chain and prevented untold quantities of dangerous drugs from reaching our streets," Arnold said in the release.

Gerardo Celis Gaytan, 41, of Sun Valley, was heard on wiretaps discussing loads of heroin and other drugs smuggled from Mexico, according to the release. Gaytan was also known as "Cholo"

The drugs allegedly came to Gaytan's North Hollywood Campos Auto Repair in cars from Mexico that had hidden compartments.

Also arrested was Gregorio Martinez Rios, 42, of North Hollywood, who allegedly used the House of Tacos in Van Nuys as a storage location for drugs.

The 151-page affidavit also described heroin hidden in tubes of household silicone. Jose Daniel Lopez, 33, a United States citizen who resides in Mexico but operates a Chula Vista masonry business, allegedly served as a supplier to Gaytan.

The 17 arrested Wednesday, along with four defendants already in custody, were expected to make appearances in federal court in LA and San Diego Wednesday afternoon.

All are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and face up to 40 years in federal prison.

The remaining defendants, some of them still unidentified, are thought to be in Mexico.

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