Tipped off when they intercepted a cell-phone conversation last summer, drug enforcement investigators have arrested three alleged cocaine traffickers, breaking up what they called a "significant" drug operation in the east San Fernando Valley.
The operation is believed to have been responsible for distributing 200 kilograms of cocaine per month, authorities said Friday.
The men arrested operated out of homes in Sylmar and San Fernando, according to Nora M. Manella, United States attorney for California's Central District.
Jose Luis Moreno, 21, is suspected of running the operation, according to court documents. Jose L. Salazar, 24, is suspected of being an associate of Moreno.
Sotero Orona Guzman, 37, is suspected of buying 39 kilograms of cocaine from Moreno and his associates, according to court documents.
The investigation was conducted by the Southern California Drug Task Force--officers from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration--assisted by local drug enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Major Narcotics Unit and the South Gate Police Department.
According to investigators, in the course of looking for drug traffickers in Southern California, they intercepted cell-phone conversations on a phone owned by Moreno.
"I learned that Moreno is the head of a cocaine distribution organization based in the Los Angeles area," a DEA agent wrote in an affidavit.
The officers obtained permission from a judge to monitor conversations on Moreno's cell phone, beginning Sept. 14, to gather evidence, according to court documents. The phone was monitored until Oct. 1.
In the conversations, investigators allege, Moreno and Salazar received and made calls in which they arranged to distribute cocaine.
During the drug transactions, according to investigators, those men and others involved in the operation used slang common to drug traffickers--such as "the man," the "engineer" and "T-shirts"--to signal the desire to buy cocaine, what amount was desired and who would make pickups and deliveries.
As a result of the investigation, the officers acquired search warrants for two houses--one in the 1600 block of Glenoaks Boulevard in San Fernando, the other in the 12800 block of Herrick Avenue in Sylmar--that yielded $224,000 in cash, 146 kilograms of cocaine, and firearms including an AK-47, according to court documents.
Guzman, on Sept. 30, was the first to be arrested, for allegedly carrying the cocaine bought from Moreno and his associates. Moreno and Salazar were arrested Oct. 1.
The three men were charged last week in federal court in downtown Los Angeles and are being held without bond. They are charged with possession and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, according to authorities.