Five San Diego residents in federal court for operating drug trafficking ring

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Five San Diego residents were due back in federal court Friday for detention hearings after they were charged this week with operating a drug trafficking ring that used stash houses across San Diego to distribute hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine brought into the country from Mexico.

Those arrested Wednesday included Jaime Ivan Mendez-Maciel, 41, the alleged leader of the cell. A sixth member of the group remains a fugitive.

Mendez-Maciel was arraigned Wednesday along with 19-year-old Juan Garcia and 25-year-old Nallely Tanairi Garcia. Armando Martin Lopez-Estrada, 31, and Daniel Bravo, 36, were arraigned Thursday, while 20-year-old Jesse Cortez remained at-large.

The group was arraigned by a federal judge on a litany of charges that included importation of methamphetamine and cocaine, distribution of methamphetamine, and conspiracy to import and distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.

"Drug Enforcement Administration agents began investigating the drug trafficking organization cell in October of 2016,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua Mellor and Francis DiGiacco said in a statement. "Throughout the investigation, DEA agents seized over a hundred pounds of methamphetamine, fifty pounds of cocaine, and several assault rifles and pistols.”

The indictment showed authorities also seized $9,690, which will be eligible for forfeiture along with the guns. The weapons seized included three Glock pistols, three .223-caliber assault rifles and a hunting rifle.

Authorities said Mendez-Maciel was the leader of the group that "coordinated the importation and distribution of hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine through the Southwest Border destined for various cities throughout the United States.”

At least eight federal, state and local agencies were involved in helping the DEA investigate the case, including the San Diego Police Department, the FBI and the California Highway Patrol.

All five suspects were scheduled for detention hearings at 10 a.m. Friday in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo.

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