Federal Indictments Target San Bernardino Street Gang’s Drug Trafficking Activities, Including Smugg
RIVERSIDE, California – More than 250 law enforcement personnel this morning arrested 24 members and associates of the Westside Verdugo street gang in San Bernardino who are charged in eight federal indictments, one of which alleges they deliberately got themselves arrested in order to smuggle narcotics and syringes hidden in their body cavities into San Bernardino County jails.
The defendants arrested are among 35 charged in the indictments unsealed. A total of 10 defendants are already in state custody and are expected to be brought to federal court in the near future.
Three of the indictments returned by a federal grand jury earlier this month name Carlos Antonio Aznaran, 24, of Rialto, as the central figure in separate narcotics-trafficking conspiracies. One of the indictments details how the gang distributed methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana inside San Bernardino County’s jail system from at least July 2017 until April 2019. Another indictment alleges that members and associates of Westside Verdugo – including Aznaran and his wife, Elisa Montes, 28, of Palm Desert – conspired to distribute methamphetamine within the City of San Bernardino. The third narcotics indictment charges Aznaran and others with conspiring to distribute heroin in San Bernardino County, as well as possessing firearms and ammunition in furtherance of their drug crimes. The remaining five indictments charge individual Westside Verdugo gang members or associates with being felons in possession of firearms and ammunition.
One of the indictments alleges that on July 2, 2017, Aznaran and other defendants planned for another gang member – Trevor Harris, a.k.a. “Eminem,” and “Vice,” 28, of San Bernardino – to get himself arrested purposely so he could smuggle narcotics to jailed co-conspirators. One week later, Harris was arrested for tampering with a vehicle and was taken to the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino. A search by law enforcement personnel, who had been monitoring telephone calls at the jail, recovered from Harris’s anal cavity approximately 43.33 grams of methamphetamine, approximately 49.7 grams of heroin, five syringes, and 20 packets of the opioid Suboxone, the indictment states. The narcotics allegedly were separated into multiple packets with monikers written on them to indicate who would receive the drugs.
On September 24, 2017, Ernest Madrid, 48, of San Bernardino, told another person that he was “trying to get busted right now” so he could smuggle narcotics into a custody facility, according to the indictment. Later that day, Madrid was arrested for a probation violation and was taken to the Central Detention Center, where approximately 78.2 grams of methamphetamine, approximately 12.12 grams of heroin, and five syringes – all concealed in his anal cavity – were seized. Authorities also found two telephone numbers, allegedly used by Aznaran, written in marker on Madrid’s legs.
“For more than 50 years, this gang has been responsible for spreading drugs and violence in this community, but today we have taken a major step to combat the group’s influence on the city of San Bernardino,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “While this is not the first time federal authorities have joined with our local counterparts to fight this criminal gang, today’s arrests signal that we will continue to pursue street gangs until families in every Southern California neighborhood can lead safe and peaceful lives.”
“Collaboration with law enforcement at all levels of government is crucial in our continuing efforts to stem the tide of criminal activity by street gangs,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The arrests announced today are the latest example of that partnership and of our commitment to targeting the most violent of these gangs, such as the Westside Verdugo, whose members traffic in drugs and intimidate through violence.”
“Today, our department assigned four tactical teams to apprehend the suspects involved in this case. This is a significant step in interrupting this criminal enterprise so that they can be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney,” said Undersheriff Shannon Dicus of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. “On behalf of Sheriff John McMahon, we would like to thank all of our agency partners, especially the men and women who worked on this investigation for their commitment to protecting all of us.”
“This gang is and has been responsible for many crimes on our streets,” said San Bernardino Acting Police Chief Eric McBride. “We appreciate the work and collaborative effort done by our partnering agencies. This investigation has made strides in making our community a safer place.”
In addition to allegations of distribution of methamphetamine, one of the indictments also claims that two of the gang’s associates were found in possession of personal identifying information of dozens of unsuspecting victims, whose identities the defendants used to commit fraud.
In the third conspiracy case, the documents allege that law enforcement not only seized heroin, but also substances containing fentanyl, as well as loaded firearms stored with the narcotics.
The charge of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances carries a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This investigation was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and the San Bernardino Police Department.
The Fontana Police Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; IRS Criminal Investigation; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and the San Bernardino County Probation and Parole Departments provided substantial assistance.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin R. Rhoades and Scott M. Lara of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.