A yearlong investigation yielded what the Montrose police chief called the biggest slate of public safety arrests of which he is aware: 13 people, who are accused of various roles in an alleged conspiracy to traffic large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin.
The defendants, two of whom were at large on Wednesday when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the fruit of several simultaneous take-downs in Montrose County, were indicted in federal court and, if convicted, face anywhere between 10 years to life in prison.
“It’s probably one of the biggest law enforcement public safety arrests that we’ve had, probably in the history of Montrose,” said Police Chief Blaine Hall, whose agency was part of the investigation, along with the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration, 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force, and multiple other agencies, as well as the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“I don’t think there has ever been a federal indictment of 13 people,” Hall said.
The USAO identified as suspects: Omar Briceno-Quijano, 29 (fugitive); Ofelia Lopez, (age not confirmed); Luis Alberto Ibarra-Tadeo, 26; Romeo Lujan, 28 (fugitive); Angelina Maestas, 32; Joseph Davis, (age not confirmed); Naomi Vaughn, 35; Jonte LeFlore, 34; Dustin Debarris, 31; Steven Keith Jones, 33; Frank Arroyo, 44; Amanda Sumpter, 49 and Nicole Wickman, 36.
According to the indictment, between Jan. 1, 2019 - Dec. 18, 2019, the defendants conspired with each other and others both known and unknown to the grand jury to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of actual methamphetamine, 500 grams or more of a mixture of a substance containing a detectable amount of meth, and less than 100 grams of heroin.
Lopez is charged under the indictment with multiple counts of “distribution and possession with intent to distribute” meth in 2019.
She is also accused, with Ibarra-Tadeo and Briceno-Quijano of distribution possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of meth and of “knowingly and intentionally” aiding, abetting, counseling, commanding, inducing or procuring meth.
Lopez and LeFlore also were indicted on the allegation that they distributed and possessed with the intent to distribute 500 grams and more of a mixture containing detectable amounts of meth.
Lopez and Wickman are charged with using a telephone to commit and facilitate commission of a drug felony, as are Arroyo, Sumpter, Briceno-Quijano, Lujan, Maestas, Vaughn, Davis, LeFlore and Debarris.
The indictment accuses Debarris, Arroyo and Jones of being in possession of a firearm and ammunition in affecting interstate and foreign commerce, despite having been previously convicted of an offense punishable by more than one year in prison.
Jones, who was arrested on local allegations last year involving a firearm near Columbine Middle School, was also charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute heroin. The indictment references the Columbine incident in an additional firearms charge against Jones, the alleged possession of a 9 mm handgun “that had moved in and affected interstate and foreign commerce within 1,000 feet” of the school, “a place that the defendant knew and had reasonable cause to believe was a school zone.”
The indictment further alleges the 9mm was stolen and had been shipped in interstate and foreign commerce.
Vaughn and Davis also are charged with distribution and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of meth.
Sumpter is charged under the indictment with distribution and intent to distribute meth.
The USAO reminds the public that the defendants are innocent until proven guilty. They were to appear before a U.S. magistrate in Grand Junction for detention hearings.
If and when there is a conviction, the government intends to seek the forfeiture of all property derived from proceeds obtained through illegal activity, the indictment says.
The document as filed does not provide the specifics of the alleged conspiracy and drug trafficking. More information about that could become available after the detention hearings, a USAO spokesman said.
Officials said the investigation’s success was due to cooperation between law enforcement agencies on a local, state and federal level and was launched with the DEA’s recognition of the increased availability of meth in the Montrose area. The DEA worked closely with the local agencies to target the alleged traffickers, said DEA Special Agent in Charge of the Denver Division Deanne Reuter, in a news release announcing the indictments.
“The success of this operation is the result of the strong partnership formed between law enforcement agencies, where all involved are deeply committed to working together to protecting the citizens of Montrose and the surrounding area from scourge of methamphetamine,” she said.
Supporting smaller communities that face large-scale drug problems is a priority, U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said in the announcement.
“The amount of drug trafficking that we are experiencing in the County of Montrose has been on the increase over the last decade,” Montrose County Sheriff Gene Lillard said, in a provided statement.
He said later Wednesday he hopes the recent indictments will put a crimp in the drug supply line.
“A lot of the information we received during this investigation, it had direct ties to Mexico,” Lillard said.
“It was an excellent partnership working with federal agencies.”
He said the MCSO and MPD would continue working together, along with the 7th Judicial Drug Task Force, U.S. Marshal’s Office, ATF, Colorado State Patrol, FBI, IRS and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, all of which played a role in the recent drug sweep.
Lillard pointed to spinoff crimes thought to be related to drug use and distribution in general, although not necessarily to this case specifically: burglaries, thefts, scams and domestic violence.
Lillard said people who use meth or heroin may be willing to commit crimes to supply their habit, because they are desperate.
The indictments serve to disrupt drug trafficking, Hall said, also hailing law enforcement agencies’ mutual cooperation and particularly citing one between his agency, the MCSO and the drug task force, the latter of which is staffed with officers from both agencies, and which often works in tandem with the DEA.
“The DEA has been a fantastic addition to the task force currently staffed by the MCSO and MPD,” Hall said. “It gives our city and county the access to their resources and also the ability to move forward with federal indictments, which is huge for our community.
“This is the result of what it looks like when you add specific resources to a specific crime problem. This is intelligence led policing at its finest, focusing on high-level offenders and building cases and moving those cases forward.”
Intelligence led policing is a proactive enforcement model the MPD is shifting to, in part because of a successful sales tax initiative that will enable the hiring of more officers over time.
The agency partnerships also were critical in effecting the arrests, Hall said, saying that more than a dozen took place roughly at the same time across the city and county.
“You can imagine the coordination and control and logistics it takes to plan that type of event. It turned out to be a very large success. This was, I think, a record for Montrose in the realm of federal arrests in one period,” Hall said, noting the “tireless work” investigators put in over the past year.
“It was a very successful operation,” Lillard said. “It came together and was well orchestrated. There were no injuries. The people arrested did not see it coming. There was a lot of surprise when we served the warrants.”
Lillard said the Mesa County drug task force also assisted in serving warrants.
“This should also be a message to our community that drug trafficking is alive and well in Montrose and we need the resources and continued resources to combat this problem,” Hall said.
Additional charges could be brought, Lillard said, and authorities will continue targeting suspected drug activity.
“We’re not going to let up,” he said.