"Drugs make people make bad decisions," said Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez. "The more dope we can take off the street, the safer a community it is for us."
The entire operation lasted nearly two years. In all, more than 150 pounds of meth were seized, in addition to more than $31,000 in cash. A total of 12 suspects have been arrested, with several more still outstanding. Some suspects were already in custody on other charges. A total of 19 suspects were indicted.
According to the indictment, between April and August of 2020, the lead defendants Timoteo Gomez, 48, of Riverside and Javier Rodriguez, 54, of Riverside, bought meth from their suppliers in Mexico, as well as in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. Other suspects are alleged to have then distributed the drugs to gang members across the Inland Empire.
Authorities specifically mentioned two incidents of alleged drug smuggling along the southern border. In one case, smugglers brought more than 90 pounds of meth across the border undetected at a border checkpoint. The drugs are alleged to have been stored in hidden compartments in their vehicles.
"These numbers are significant," said Kristi Johnson of the FBI. "The defendants were able to smuggle the drugs across the border during COVID, when it was more difficult to do."
The arrests were announced during a news conference in Riverside Wednesday morning, where authorities said violent crime has risen dramatically during the pandemic. But Chief Gonzalez points to other causes for the recent rise in crime.
"In my humble opinion, it's because of two reasons. There's more guns on the street than I've ever seen in my career, and there's thousands of people who should be incarcerated who aren't incarcerated right now," said Gonzalez. "That's a bad combination."
Representatives of the Riverside Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff's Department, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration attended the news conference. Despite the significant number of arrests, they said the massive size of these criminal drug rings is discouraging.
"The cartels are aware of law enforcement efforts at the border, so what they'll do is they'll flood the border with multiple vehicles coming through," said FBI agent Andrew Sharp. "It's just a risk they take. They know that some will get caught, but a lot of it's going to get through."
Each suspect was charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. If convicted, they face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in federal prison, with a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.