Local News

Agents arrest 15 alleged drug cartel members

Posted September 18, 2008 1:19 p.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2008 10:00 p.m. EDT

— Federal and state agents and local officers arrested 15 people this week, and have netted nearly 30 overall, as part of an international operation against what they said is an extremely violent Mexican drug cartel.

Federal agents assigned to a Raleigh-based drug task force assisted local officers in arresting 15 people Tuesday. Officers seized cash, cocaine and six weapons and searched seven locations in Johnston and Wayne counties, they said.

"In the end, these drug traffickers were removed from our communities. No more will they sell illegal drugs or spread fear and intimidation," said John Emerson, assistant special-agent-in-charge for North Carolina for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The operation was part of Project Reckoning, a 15-month DEA investigation into the Gulf Cartel. It has spanned a dozen American states and reached into Italy as well.

The Gulf Cartel has imported tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana from Central and South America and distributed it in the United States, U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said. The cartel is also believed to have laundered millions of dollars and been a driving force behind escalating violence in Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Nationally, Project Reckoning has resulted in 507 arrests and the seizure of about $60.1 million, 16,711 kilograms of cocaine, 1,039 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,258 pounds of marijuana, 176 vehicles and 167 weapons.

Triangle-area law enforcement agencies have arrested at least 13 people in addition to those taken in Tuesday and seized 122 kilograms of cocaine, 17 weapons and more than $1.1 million in cash.

The operations were coordinated by the N.C.-Triangle High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, formed in February to work with local agencies in cracking down on drug trafficking throughout North Carolina.

The investigation was led by the Wake and Wayne sheriff's offices and police departments in Durham, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Cary and Wilson, as well as the State Bureau of Investigation. The suspects will be prosecuted by the district attorneys for Wayne, Wake, Nash and Johnston counties and the U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina.

"I commend the hard work and cooperative efforts of the participating law enforcement agencies in this investigation," Emerson said. "The hard work and tireless devotion to making the Raleigh-Triangle area a safer place can be seen in the results."

Authorities named those arrested Tuesday and charged with trafficking in cocaine:

  • Eric Alejandro Cortez Cisneros, 25, of Princeton
  • Pablo Martinez Avellaneda, 34, of Magnolia
  • Reynaldo Garcia Vasquez, 28, of Goldsboro
  • Juan Acosta Vasquez, 30, of Goldsboro
  • Israel Garcia Vasquez, 22, of Goldsboro
  • Antoine Darnell Lambert, 24, of Brodnax, Va.
  • Hector Ramos Avellandeda, 23, of Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Eduardo Anastasio Almanza, 36, of Trenton
  • Sergio Ramon Perales Reyna, 20, of Trenton
  • Quentin Ray Locklear, 23, of Robeson County
  • Cody Varel Locklear, 21, of Robeson County
  • Antonio Lopez Sanchez, 19, of Johnston County
  • Johnnie Sanchez, 28, of Raleigh
  • Javier Nunez "Chaparro" Villaneuva, 42, of Zebulon
  • Pablo "El Viejo" Palacio

Quentin and Ray Locklear, Antonio and Johnnie Sanchez, Villaneuva and Palacio were arrested in connection with the seizure of 2.5 kilograms of cocaine in Johnston County.

Vasquez, Almanza and Reyna had been arrested in December 2007 for possession of 14 kilograms of cocaine in Wayne County.