A yearlong investigation into a Mexico-to-Chicago drug pipeline resulted in the seizure of more than 190 kilograms of heroin and 19 drug-related arrests, including of several suburban residents, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
The U.S. attorneys office said the 19 were identified as part of a probe led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called "Operation Over the Top" that involved the use of wiretapped cellphones, undercover purchases and extensive surveillance.
Several people were charged and arrested within the past two weeks in an investigation that lasted more than a year and disrupted the pipeline, authorities said.
The charges describe various narcotics distribution organizations operating in the Chicago area, including instances in which heroin shipped from Mexico in secret compartments of semitrailers was unloaded at warehouses in Naperville, Sugar Grove and St. Charles. The trailers were then filled with cash for the return trip, authorities said.
Federal authorities also described the seizure of 80 kilograms of heroin from a home in Hanover Park; the shut down of a heroin stash house in Bensenville; and removal of 85 kilograms of heroin and cocaine from warehouses in St. Charles and Sugar Grove and a vacant lot in Chicago.
The investigation was conducted under the umbrella of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and involved federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the FBI office in San Antonio, Texas.
"This investigation is an example of the extraordinary determination and cooperation among our law enforcement partners," Joel R. Levin, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in announcing the charges.
"Too many lives are lost to heroin and too many families forever scarred," DEA Special Agent in Charge Dennis A. Wichern added in the announcement.
Among those charged are:
• Julio Cesar Flores Saenz, 29, of Hanover Park. Authorities said he was arrested last month with about 80 kilograms of heroin hidden in his home and a vehicle compartment. According to a criminal complaint, Saenz last fall distributed heroin to men from Riverside, California, and Philadelphia. He was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance.
•Juan Contreras, 35, of Aurora, and Jesus Alberto Martinez-Reyes, 39, of Schiller Park, led a separate faction of narcotics dealers who unloaded heroin at warehouses in Naperville, Sugar Grove and St. Charles, authorities said. Contreras was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance, with an Oct. 16 trial date.
• Contreras' brother, David Contreras, 39, and his nephew, Edgar Rodriguez Contreras, 32, both of Aurora, and Hedilberto Vega-Rocha, 47, of Schiller Park, pleaded guilty earlier this year to their roles in the distribution conspiracy, authorities said.
In written plea agreements David Contreras, Martinez-Reyes, Edgar Contreras and Vega-Rocha admitted they conspired with Juan Contreras and each other to distribute heroin that had been shipped from Mexico, according to the U.S. attorneys office. All four are awaiting sentencing.
• Jesus Salgado, 24, of Bensenville, ran a stash house where heroin and cash from drug sales were stored, according to authorities. Salgado sold narcotics in the Chicago area, according to the complaints and an indictment returned in federal court.
Authorities said his father, Lorenzo Salgado, 54, who lives in Mexico, oversaw the operation and communicated with his son by phone.
Jesus and Lorenzo Salgado each are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance. Jesus Salgado is in federal custody and is scheduled to appear May 3 for a status hearing. Lorenzo Salgado is considered a fugitive.