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O.C., U.S. Join to Bust Alleged Cocaine Ring

Crime: Drugs from Mexico were smuggled through Southern California on way to Chicago, authorities say.

June 26, 1997|LORENZA MUNOZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A seven-month investigation by federal and Orange County drug agents led to the arrest this week of more than a dozen people suspected of moving cocaine from Mexico through Southern California to Chicago.

Authorities said the investigation involved the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program, the Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs.

On Tuesday, agents raided sites in San Dimas, Chino, Ontario, Chino Hills and Colton and arrested people suspected of being couriers and laundering money for a smuggling ring that originated in Mexicali, Mexico.

Although most of the dealing and money laundering occurred in Los Angeles and Riverside counties, authorities said, the first drug sale occurred in Santa Ana.

Among those arrested were Fernando Ramirez-Cortez, 40, of San Dimas, suspected of being the leader of the ring, his wife, Evelyn, and his mistress, Renee Perez.

The agents also seized three homes, four motor homes, 12 vehicles, computers and Ramirez's business, Universal Car Wash Equipment Inc., near Ontario Airport. According to a federal affidavit released Wednesday, the business was used to launder drug money and store caches of weapons.

Agents say that during the investigation, more than $2 million in cash was transported from Chicago to Los Angeles in hidden car compartments, such as inside spare tires.

One of the cars seized was paid for in part with $20,000 in cash by Perez, according to the affidavit.

Agents say they believe Ramirez laundered drug proceeds through his business and through Las Vegas casinos.

Authorities say Ramirez would gamble with drug proceeds and ask the casinos to pay his proceeds with a check. Those checks deposited in his bank account then "created an apparent legitimate source of income," according to the affidavit.

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