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Raids target big drug operation around state

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Federal, state and local enforcement agents, some descending in helicopters, staged early morning raids in Las Vegas and elsewhere in northern and central New Mexico on Thursday to take down a longtime drug trafficking organization and its alleged leader, who seemed to always stay a step ahead of his captors.

Robert Corbin Padilla, also known as Fat Head, was taken into custody Thursday in Albuquerque, according to newly released arrest and search warrant records filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI.

Padilla faces multiple charges, including distribution of fentanyl and cocaine. It was unclear late Thursday where he was being held or whether he had an attorney.

A DEA search warrant affidavit alleges that Padilla’s organization, which operated out of his home in Albuquerque, distributed cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and oxycodone and fentanyl pills.

Las Vegas police believe Padilla has been the main source of illegal drugs in the northern New Mexico city, supplying 70% of the cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine that goes into the community, the affidavit says.

One of Padilla’s suppliers in Albuquerque has been the source of his bulk quantities of cocaine for about 20 years, the DEA affidavit says.

As part of the joint operation, which also involved the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Marshals Service, agents planned to execute arrests warrants for about 25 people, a dozen of whom are alleged to be members of the Padilla organization. Federal authorities were not disclosing the actual number arrested as of Thursday afternoon.

The 19-count indictment issued Sept. 11 by a federal grand jury shows that the DEA investigation was underway for at least a year. Until his arrest Thursday, Padilla was considered a fugitive, the DEA affidavit says.

“The primary target of this investigation, Padilla, is extremely surveillance conscious and employs very effective counter-survelliance techniques in an attempt to thwart law enforcement tactics,” the DEA affidavit says.

Court orders allowed the DEA to rely on wire interceptions and electronic surveillance, revealing that Padilla had been conducting drug trafficking activities from his home in the 8400 block of San Juan NE in Albuquerque.

He frequently traveled to Las Vegas to store, retrieve and distribute drugs, as well as collect drug proceeds, the affidavit says.

Agents learned Padilla kept his drugs in or near his house when he actively distributed them but hid them in a location known only to him when he wasn’t selling, the affidavit says.

An April 10 telephone conversation intercepted by agents led them to believe Padilla was being warned that federal law enforcement agents were investigating him.

According to the 87-page DEA affidavit:

“Through information obtained early on in this investigation, agents believe that Padilla has sources of information in the Las Vegas Police Department and/or the San Miguel County District Attorney’s Office. Lead agents believe these source(s) of information may provide Padilla information regarding any investigations targeting Padilla as well as provide him information regarding impending execution of search warrants.”

The affidavit also included transcripts of portions of the intercepted calls.

“Be careful,” one caller told Padilla in the April 10 call. “But, just stay alert, brother.”

“Is it just the city or is it uh … or higher?” Padilla asked.

“I think higher, bro. I’m just telling you to stay alert,” the caller said.

Padilla responded, “But if it’s way higher, the city won’t have wind of it, they don’t talk to the city ’cause they think that they uh … they have all kinds of employees there.”

A minute later, Padilla made a call to a different person who knew someone who worked for the city of Las Vegas. During that one-minute call, the affidavit says, Padilla said he didn’t believe that the investigation was at the federal level because federal law enforcement agencies “don’t share information with the Las Vegas police due to Padilla’s influence within the department.”

“To that end,” the affidavit says, “Padilla surmised the investigators were from the New Mexico State Police.”

The search locations included a stash house where Padilla was thought to be masking his whereabouts from law enforcement, hiding his vehicles and concealing evidence.

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