Forty arrests, 65 suspects charged, the seizure of more than $1.2 million in monetary assets, 31 firearms and over 160 pounds of methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine — these are just some of the results of a multi-state investigation into a Mexico-based drug trafficking organization conducted in Colorado over the past two years.
And it all started in Pueblo.
The investigation — targeting illegal drug distribution cells in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver and dubbed by law enforcement as “Operation Double Dippin” — was discussed in detail at a press conference held Thursday at the Pueblo Municipal Justice Center.
“This began in February 2017 right here in the city of Pueblo,” said Pueblo Police Chief Troy Davenport.
“Our officers engaged in street-level narcotics enforcement, developed information and rapidly, we realized this was going to be a big case.”
When police identified that the Pueblo busts may be part of a larger drug trafficking operation, the case was referred to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Southern Colorado Drug Task Force, which launched an investigation.
Over a two-year period, the task force identified the Payan Drug Trafficking Organization as the primary distribution cell for the drugs, and through a variety of investigative procedures such as wire intercepts, search warrants on vehicles and residences, and drug purchases by undercover and confidential sources, identified 65 individuals in three states and Mexico as suspects.
Of them, 40 have been arrested and an additional 25 are currently sought by law enforcement.
Of the 25 who’ve yet to be caught, two are Pueblo fugitives.
They are considered armed and dangerous and are still believed to be somewhere in the Pueblo area.
Police have identified the Pueblo fugitives as Diana “Dee” Sandoval, who also goes by Diana Pacheco, and Ray Rodriguez, who is also known by the name “Joker.”
The general public, police say, should not attempt to follow, contact or detain them.
According to Tim Scott, the DEA’s resident agent who oversees Southern Colorado, the Payan DTO has distributed illegal narcotics throughout the Front Range for the past two decades, and within the Centennial State, has concentrated its efforts along the Interstate 25 corridor.
Scott said the Operation Double Dippin represents a significant blow to the international organization, especially to its presence in Colorado.
“I know through intel sources we have and what we’ve heard throughout the community that this has definitely taken out some of the major drug traffickers, not just in Pueblo, but in the state of Colorado,” Scott said.
“This resulted in numerous pounds of poison, quite frankly, being taken off the streets, and being prevented from going into those that struggle with substance abuse,” Davenport said.
During the operation, the task force found that the bulk of the narcotics brought into the U.S. by the Payan DTO tend to come across points of entry stashed inside of vehicles, though Scott said some of those drugs can be packed by individuals through the desert and across the border as well.
The drugs then tend to move from the border through Phoenix, Ariz. — where many of the suspects in the case were eventually apprehended — before making their way into New Mexico and eventually, to Colorado.
The group of suspects arrested and sought as a result of the investigation includes a mix of both U.S. and Mexico citizens and represents numerous levels of the trafficking operation, from low-level street dealers to high-profile suppliers.
“Ultimately where this case led to was the indictments of several members of the Payan family in Mexico,” Scott said.
Officials say approximately one-third of the suspects who have not been caught are believed to have returned to Mexico, and authorities will seek their extradition to the U.S.
DEA Special Agent Todd Zimmerman, who spoke at the press conference, said that the investigation should serve as a warning for those who seek to sell drugs here.
“This investigation deals a critical blow to the Payan DTO that has plagued numerous towns and neighborhoods from Trinidad to Denver for a very long time,” Zimmerman said.
“Those who choose to sell drugs in the great state of Colorado should understand that they are very likely to find themselves in state or federal prison. … We want them to know we are coming after them. We won’t stop.”
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