02/07/2008

Major Wyo. drug ring taken down

By Cary Snyder
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

CHEYENNE — Thirteen city residents were arrested this week on federal drug charges that authorities say cap a year-long investigation into a cocaine ring that originated in Mexico.

The drug-trafficking organization operated by moving kilograms of cocaine from Mexico to the greater Denver area, where it was distributed here through a local dealer, authorities said.

The arrests carried out Tuesday and Wednesday were the second round in the investigation that dismantled a narcotics ring suspected of bringing over 100 pounds of cocaine into Cheyenne and Laramie County.

The drug activity dates back to 2002, said Don Farmer, leader of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Southeast Enforcement Team, in a release.

Jay Erickson, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Cheyenne, called the collective arrests "a very significant case." He added that the significance of the amount of drugs moving through an area is relative, based on population.

"It pretty much dismantled the organization here — the distribution here as well as the supply down in Denver," Erickson said Wednesday.

He estimated the current wholesale price of cocaine between $900 and $1,000 per ounce. At that rate, the ring was responsible for trafficking at least $1.6 million in cocaine here.

Erickson added that the price of cocaine is usually higher when it is broken down into smaller quantities and sold to individuals.

The first round of arrests occurred in late October and early November when six people — including Cheyenne resident Steven A. Gibson, 64 — were apprehended.

The other five arrested were citizens of Mexico who were living in the Denver area, a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne indicates.

Most of those arrested this week were charged with possession or attempting to possess cocaine or marijuana.

DCI alleged that Gibson was the local distributor who would convert some of the cocaine into crack cocaine and sell both drugs to locally based consumers.

Gibson allegedly obtained the cocaine from his Denver-based source, Basillo Montoya-Ramirez, 35, a citizen of Mexico, according to the DCI release.

From there, authorities used phone wiretaps to identify Gibson's and Montoya-Ramirez's alleged sources as well as Cheyenne-based buyers, DCI said.

Authorities searched Gibson's home in Cheyenne on Oct. 23 and found what appeared to be one-half pound of cocaine and 10 pounds of marijuana.

During an arrest interview, Gibson said he obtained the drugs a day earlier in Denver and planned to redistribute them to his local customers, DCI said.

The case originated as a spin-off of the James Sali investigation, which began in January 2006.

Sali shot at two Laramie County Sheriff's deputies that month as they tried to arrest him for his role in a methamphetamine ring. Sali has since been sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Thirty-one people eventually were prosecuted as a result of the Sali investigation, Farmer said in the release.

Of those, 26 were local residents, and 25 of them have pleaded guilty. The other person is a fugitive, he said.
The current investigation was a joint effort among several local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including Cheyenne Police, the Laramie County Sheriff's Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The DCI Southeast Enforcement Team covers Laramie, Albany, Carbon, Goshen and Platte counties. DEA has four agents assigned to its Cheyenne office.

Copyright 2008 Wyoming Tribune-EAgle

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