LITTLE ROCK — Sixteen people, including alleged members of a Mexican drug cartel that federal authorities say shipped hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into Arkansas and other states, are named in a 25-count federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on May 2 and filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, includes charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, distribution of cocaine and use of a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking crime.
Authorities arrested most of the defendants on Tuesday. One was already in prison and five were still at large by Tuesday afternoon.
At a news conference Tuesday, Chris Thyer, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said the investigation began in 2010 when the FBI office in Little Rock learned that an inmate of the federal prison in Forrest City, Mohammed Kazam Martinez, aka "Mo," 31, was allegedly recruiting fellow inmates to distribute cocaine for a drug cartel based in Matamoros, Mexico, upon their release from prison.
Martinez, who is named in the indictment, has since been transferred to a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, where he is serving a sentence of 22 years and 11 months for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to deliver.
Among the others named in the indictment, Thyer said, are two inmates allegedly recruited by Martinez, Emanual Ilo, aka "Chi Chi" or "Chi," 34, and Mervin Johnson, aka "Slim," 37, both of Little Rock. Ilo was arrested Tuesday and Johnson was still at large Tuesday afternoon.
Thyer said Martinez arranged for Ilo and Johnson to meet face-to-face with a high-ranking member of the cartel known as the Gulf Cartel. He said that high-ranking cartel member was Martinez’s mother, Idalia Ramos Rangel, 57, aka "La Tia" or "Big Momma," of Matamoros.
Rangel, also named in the indictment, was still at large Tuesday afternoon. Thyer said she is a "captain" or "lieutenant" in the cartel, which he said makes her a member of the cartel’s second-highest tier of leadership.
"At this level she would have direct access and continuous contact with (the highest) leaders," he said. "She would be directly involved in the distribution of drugs throughout the United States and particularly in Arkansas. She would also be involved in the planning and overall operation of the drug cartel."
Rangel has been a fugitive from justice since she was named in a U.S. federal indictment in the 1990s, Thyer said.
"There have been various efforts to extradite her through the years. I anticipate that following the indictment announced today those efforts to bring her to justice back here in America will intensify," he said.
Other members of Rangel’s family who are named in the indictment include Denice Duran Martinez, 34, of Brownsville, Texas, the wife or possibly ex-wife of Mohammed Martinez; Homar Martinez, 31, of Brownsville, another of Rangel’s sons; Yadira Anahy Martinez, 36, of Brownsville, Homar Martinez’s wife; Nishme Martinez, 26, of Austin, Texas, Rangel’s daughter; and Jaime Benevides, 27, of Austin, Nishme Martinez’s fiance. All five were arrested Tuesday.
Another defendant, Manuel Garza, 31, of Brownsville, is a longtime friend of Mohammed Martinez, Thyer said. Garza was still at large Tuesday afternoon.
The indictment alleges that the cartel distributed cocaine to Dwatney Noid; Dwight McLittle, aka "D.A."; Lamont Williams, aka "Peter Rabbit"; Gerard Trice, aka "Fly"; and Tarvars Honorable, aka "Pudgy," all of Little Rock, for redistribution to customers in Arkansas. It also alleges that Shanieka Tatum, 35, aided Ilo by storing cocaine for him at her Little Rock residence. All but Noid and Trice were in custody Tuesday afternoon.
"We believe that at trial we will be able to prove that the Ramos-Rangel DTO (drug trafficking organization) has imported in excess of 200 kilograms of cocaine directly into the Little Rock and Arkansas market. In controlled purchases alone we have seized more than 1 kilogram of cocaine directly from this DTO right here in Little Rock," Thyer said.
More than 175 kilograms of cocaine associated with the organization has been seized around the country, he said.
Nearly all of the defendants have extensive criminal histories, Thyer said. Some face mandatory life sentences if convicted because of their criminal histories, he said.
The FBI investigated the case with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Little Rock Police Department and several other agencies, Thyer said.