FARMINGTON — Local and federal law enforcement officials charged 29 people Wednesday on suspicion of trafficking methamphetamine in San Juan County.
The charges came after a year-long investigation into a meth dealing ring in northwestern New Mexico that investigators called "Brown ICE," law enforcement officials said at a press conference in Farmington on Wednesday evening.
The meth dealing network was allegedly headed by Isaac Anaya, a 30-year-old Farmington man, said San Juan County Sheriff's Office Lt. Neil Haws, the director of the Region II Narcotics Task Force.
On Wednesday, law enforcement officials served 11 federal search warrants at two Bloomfield residences, four Farmington residences, two residences in unincorporated San Juan County, two Bloomfield businesses, two Farmington businesses and a storage unit in Bloomfield, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico. State search warrants were also served.
Law enforcement officials on Wednesday located and arrested 26 of the 29 people charged in connection to the case. Two of the suspects were already in police custody on other charges. One of the suspects has not been arrested and is considered a fugitive.
Of the suspects charged Wednesday, 12 were charged with federal drug trafficking offenses. All 12 face several charges, including conspiracy to trafficking meth, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Another suspect, Fay Gordon, 29, of Farmington, was charged with federal drug trafficking crimes, but Gordon had not been arrested as of Wednesday evening.
The other 16 suspects are facing state charges.
Haws said the case started as a Region II investigation into Anaya, but the anti-narcotics task force early into the investigation presented the case to a local Department of Homeland Security agent. The federal agency worked alongside local law enforcement, which resulted in the federal warrants, Haws said.
"What we did was dismantle and disrupt a large criminal organization that had tentacles not only here in the Four Corners, but have far-reaching arms that stretch all the way down to the Republic of Mexico," said Kevin Abar, an assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security in New Mexico. "Homeland Security has made a commitment to this region, and we will keep our commitment to this region, and we will push forward on various investigations."
Abar said the suspects arrested Wednesday worked together in a criminal network. He declined to discuss how the network was organized, saying it was still an ongoing investigation and more charges could be filed.
In addition to the arrests, law enforcement officials on Wednesday confiscated a significant amount of drugs, guns, small explosives, cash, vehicles and other property, Haws said. Searches were still happening Wednesday evening, and more details about what was confiscated weren't available. Haws said that during the year-long investigation, at least five pounds of meth and five firearms were seized.
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said more than 330 law enforcement officers arrested suspects and conducted searches throughout the county on Wednesday. Six armored trucks ferried law enforcement to different locations. And the sheriff's office helicopter patrolled the skies throughout the day to ensure the operation went as planed, Christesen said.
Searches and arrests started at 6 a.m., and the operation was coordinated out of the National Guard Armory on Navajo Street in Farmington, he said.
Once arrested, the suspects were brought to the armory, where they were fingerprinted and law enforcement attempted to interview them, Christesen said.
After that, they were taken to the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, and jail staff worked into the night to book them into the facility, jail administrator Tom Havel said.
Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec police and the sheriff's office were involved in the operation. The sheriff, police chiefs from the various agencies and District Attorney Rick Tedrow said at the Wednesday press conference that the operation will have a significant effect on meth trafficking in San Juan County. The law enforcement officials said the partnerships between the agencies were crucial to its success.
"Today's events are the product of the diligent efforts of a vast group of people committed to the safety of our communities, county and our nation," said Acting Farmington Police Chief Vincent Mitchell. "This coordination ... increases the security, prosperity and quality of life for our citizens."
A significant number of Homeland Security agents throughout the county made arrests and searched properties on Wednesday. Christesen said the additional federal agents arrived in the county late last week and held briefings with law enforcement at undisclosed locations throughout the county.
Bloomfield resident Richard Archuleta, 32, was one of the suspects arrested on federal drug trafficking charges Wednesday. At his home on County Road 50106 on Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen Homeland Security agents were seen searching his property and confiscating vehicles.
Haws said the suspects arrested Wednesday were selling meth that was produced in Mexico.
Anaya, who law enforcement described as the leader of the criminal network, has a long list of felony arrests, but his prior cases resulted in dismissals. In May 2006 and April 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of distribution of marijuana, and the case was dismissed each time.
He has also been arrested on suspicion of aggravated battery in 2004, aggravated assault in 2006 and aggravated fleeing in 2007. Each time the charges against him were dismissed, according to a state court website.
Abar said none of the suspects were injured during the operation.