Western Washington Drug Ring Busted

Multiple members of a methamphetamine trafficking ring were indicted last week in U.S. District Court for seven federal felonies related to their drug trafficking, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Some of the conspirators, have been charged in state court over the last ten years, but fled the jurisdiction and then returned using different names. Four of the defendants are detained pending further hearings. One remains a fugitive.

“These defendants are responsible for huge loads of methamphetamine, which continues to cause death and destruction in our community,” said U.S. Attorney Brown. “In one instance they brought 55 pounds of methamphetamine to Western Washington via Amtrak train – fortunately law enforcement seized the drugs at the Kelso train station.”

The indicted defendants are:

  • Jesus Venegas-Gatica, 35, of Lakewood, Washington
  • Jose Venegas-Gatica, 34, of Fresno, California
  • Juan Tolentino-Chino, 33, of Astoria, Oregon
  • Cristobal Venegas Diaz, 47, of Centralia, Washington
  • Esteban Martinez-Ortiz, 32, a citizen of Mexico, being sought by law enforcement.

According to records filed in the case, the Venegas family has been involved in drug trafficking since at least 2012. Defendant Jesus Venegas-Gatica was charged in Lewis County in 2012 in connection with a 15-pound load of methamphetamine. He fled the jurisdiction and returned under a different name. In 2013, law enforcement seized 70 pounds of meth and ten firearms from members of the drug trafficking organization. The criminal complaint details another arrest in 2019 in Kitsap County with 20 pounds of meth. In each of those cases the drug distributors fled and used aliases to return to drug trafficking. 

The current case charges various large-scale methamphetamine deals in Cowlitz, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Pierce, and Thurston Counties. According to one informant, the Venegas family transported 20 to 25 kilograms of methamphetamine to Washington each month. Law enforcement tied these defendants to trafficking more than 105 pounds of meth at locations ranging from casino parking lots to outlet mall stores. In one instance, law enforcement caught a co-conspirator getting off an Amtrak train in Kelso, Washington with 55 pounds of methamphetamine in his luggage that he had transported from Sacramento, California.

In May 2022, authorities recovered another 19 kilos of methamphetamine when they executed search warrants at various defendant’s homes and cars.

“The culmination of this investigation signifies the DEA’s unyielding pursuit of drug trafficking organizations,” said Jacob D. Galvan, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Seattle Field Division. “This organization was responsible for distributing more than one hundred pounds of methamphetamine in Western Washington. The DEA, along with its federal, state and local partners will relentlessly pursue drug traffickers to keep our communities safe and healthy, no matter how long it takes.”

Due to the large amounts of drugs involved, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum ten-year prison term.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This investigation was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Tacoma Resident Office, the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET), and the Grays Harbor Drug Task Force (GHDTF).

Source: U.S. Attorney's Office

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