Authorities on Saturday arrested three suspects and seized over 17 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly $17,000 in cash and a sport utility vehicle as part of a move against a suspected trafficking operation, according to a statement from the Park City Police Department.
The case was the result of a three-month investigation that included the Davis Metro Narcotics Strike Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration Metro Narcotics Task Force, the Summit County Sheriff's Office and the Park City Police Department.
Julio Cesar Perez-Vargas and Francisco Javier Romero-Barajas, both 28, were arrested on Saturday and charged Monday in United States District Court with possession with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Vanessa Barron-Ballardo, age unknown, faces state charges for possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine as well as child endangerment, according to the Police Department statement.
The suspects have been linked to the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.
Search warrants on the suspected traffickers were served on Saturday, and Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter said at a Wednesday press conference the case was successful because of the ability of local agencies to tap into the resources of federal partners.
Phone and other "electronic communications" between Perez-Vargas and Romero-Barajas were intercepted multiple times between August and October, according to court documents. On Oct. 5, a search warrant executed at a hotel where Perez-Vargas was staying yielded one pound of methamphetamine in a child's diaper bag, according to court documents.
"We knew we didn't have locally the expertise that was necessary to really infiltrate these organizations," said Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds. "In this particular case, we were able to successfully infiltrate a lot of their telecommunications."
"We contacted the DEA to let them know what we found out; then we got in touch with Sheriff [Edmunds] and Chief [Carpenter], who had problems tied in to these groups," Fitzpatrick said.
Carpenter said he and Edmunds had talked earlier about an increase in drug use, vehicle break-ins and violent crime, and both agreed it was important to reach out to federal partners. Edmunds added that collaboration is crucial for drug trafficking investigations.
"In the 21st century, that's the way investigations need to look," Edmunds said. "Criminals don't understand jurisdictional boundaries; they don't follow [them]. We have to make sure we're partnering with everyone involved."
Carpenter declined to detail the precise location of the bust, but he said the general area was around Sidewinder Drive and Kearns Boulevard.
If Perez-Vargas and Romero-Barajas are convicted, they will face no less than 10 years, and possibly life, in federal prison and a $10 million fine, according to the Police Department statement. Barron-Ballardo would face up to five years in state prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of child endangerment, and up to 15 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of the distribution charge.
Edmunds said more arrests are expected, and he added that the case sends a message to others involved in drug trafficking.
"I think a powerful message has been sent, and that is this: We do have the sophistication required to conduct these types of investigations and take out some very high-level people," Edmunds said. "We do not want this poison in our community. Any would-be distributors need to understand that we're going to come after you very powerfully and we're not going to tolerate it."