Millions in cash, fentanyl seized in raid - Albuquerque Journal

Millions in cash, fentanyl seized in raid

Various Law enforcement agencies participated in a Thursday morning raid in the South Valley that netted millions in cash and fentanyl pills. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)
Among the items seized in Thursday’s raid was millions of dollars in cash, including the money featured in this image posted to Twitter by the Albuquerque Police Department. (Source: APD)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

It may be the biggest seizure of drugs and money in New Mexico history.

Federal search warrant returns unsealed Friday revealed the discovery of up to $2 million in bulk cash and what authorities said could be a record amount of fentanyl pills at one of 15 Albuquerque locations searched Thursday as part of an ongoing FBI investigation into a new evolving alliance among street and prison gangs in the state.

The deadly pills, believed to be destined for distribution in New Mexico, totaled more than 1 million. About 142 pounds of methamphetamine was also recovered, along with two hand grenades, ballistic vests, a bulletproof baseball cap, 37 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Five people were arrested, including one alleged member of the Sureños gang, whose crew reportedly has been selling thousands of fentanyl pills each week in Albuquerque, according to a 104-page sworn search warrant affidavit filed by FBI case agent Bryan Acee.

And the federal investigation continues into the inter-gang conspiracy, which could include federal racketeering violations, according to the search warrant documents.

“We hope, at least in the short run, that we see a reduction in crime,” said Raul Bujanda, special agent in charge of the FBI in New Mexico. “We want to make sure our communities are staying safe.”

At a news conference Friday, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Alexander Uballez said of the seizure, “This is an impressive haul.”

Neither Bujanda nor Uballez could recall a bigger seizure of money or drugs in the state.

The high-profile bust marks the latest twist in a massive seven-year criminal investigation by the FBI into the ultraviolent Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico. The 42-year-old prison gang that operates inside and outside prison walls has been crippled in recent years by more than 160 arrests of its members and associates and five federal rackeetering trials that landed its top leader and 11 other gang members in federal prison for life. Eleven homicides have been solved in the investigation to date.

Now the FBI believes the members of the Sureños, a California-based gang linked to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, also known as the La Eme or Black Hand, have stepped in to help the SNM continue its mission of violence, revenge and illicit drug distribution in New Mexico.

The Sureños have significantly more personnel on the street and in custody, and informants have reported the Sureños have taken over the illicit drug market in Albuquerque, unloading hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine a week and tens of thousands of fentanyl pills, according to the affidavit.

The FBI’s two prior investigations, dubbed Operations Atonement I and II, “have significantly disrupted the SNM and created a void in what was traditionally an SNM stronghold in the state’s prisons, jails, and on the streets of New Mexico. In recent weeks, FBI, BOP (the Federal Bureau of Prisons), and state and local gang investigators developed information indicating the Sureños were seeking to capitalize on the void,” wrote Acee, whom Bujanda said directed this week’s searches.

The number of Sureños has increased in Albuquerque in recent years, with some of those being released from federal prison choosing to settle in New Mexico rather than return to California, the affidavit states.

One confidential informant was quoted as saying, “A lot of California Sureños were not returning to California due to tougher laws there, the cost of living, and the fact that New Mexico was ‘an easy place to live … and be us’ (Sureños).”

The Sureño gang also maintains a large presence in Arizona and Nevada.

Acee wrote that multiple sources have “indicated the Sureños intended to better organize, direct and/or broker fentanyl and methamphetamine sales within the various Hispanic street gangs in the Albuquerque area.”

At the same time, “The SNM, with assistance from the Sureños, are seeking to make ‘examples’ of former SNM members who cooperated with the government. … Similarly SNM members in good standing who fail to assault or kill SNM informants are being targeted for violence by the SNM and the Sureños,” the affidavit stated.

That’s why federal investigators are looking into the fatal shooting of Marvin “Looney” McAllister, who turned up dead inside a vacant Southeast Heights apartment on Aug. 7. Word on the street was he had been the victim of a “hit.” Albuquerque police found no signs of forced entry. No surveillance cameras. And no eyewitnesses.

Federal agents knew McAllister, 46, as a veteran SNM gang member who had been vocal about killing the cooperators in the FBI’s recent massive multi-year federal racketeering prosecutions of top gang leaders and their associates.

McAllister boasted in 2019 about getting unauthorized access to trial discovery documents and newspaper clippings to help track down the so-called “rats,” or former gang members who helped the government, the records alleged.

More recently, McAllister had been tasked with a new directive from the SNM/Sureño alliance: hit cooperators or be hit.

But was McAllister fatally shot because he himself hadn’t carried out the mission?

Several of the 22 informants interviewed as part of the investigation pointed the finger at the Sureños. One informant was quoted in the affidavit as saying McAllister was killed as a favor to the SNM “because the SNM was in disarray and did not have anyone good on the streets.”

The informant couldn’t identify which Sureño “did the hit, but warned there would be other SNM/Sureños murders to come.”

A fatal shooting of another SNM member last November in Albuquerque also surfaced in the FBI investigation. The Albuquerque Police Department believed the shooter may have fired in self-defense. But before police responded to the scene, a group of homeless people robbed the dying victim, and possibly his firearm, and then dragged him to the side of the road and disappeared, the affidavit stated.

A key arrest on Thursday was that of Jesse “Lobo” Young, a Sureños member with at least 21 prior arrests in New Mexico, and felony convictions of possession of a controlled substance and transferring a stolen vehicle. As the suspected head of the gang’s drug distribution network in Albuquerque, he was accused by one confidential informant of distributing methamphetamines and fentanyl to other Sureños and four other gangs to sell in the city.

Court records show Young also was one of the suspects charged in the 2012 double homicide of a man and his nephew. Their bodies were discovered in a burnt white SUV near Pajarito Mesa. The victims were believed to have been strangled over a drug deal, news reports show, but Young’s charges were dismissed by prosecutors after flaws were discovered in the investigation.

Young, whose defense attorney couldn’t be reached late Friday, is facing federal charges of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamines and fentanyl and firearms charges. He remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing in U.S. Magistrate Court on Wednesday in Albuquerque.

The reorganization of drug and gang activities in New Mexico is being done with SNM’s acknowledgement, as the SNM fall under the Eme in the federal prisons. The partnership between SNM and Sureños “enhances intergang operability, extends the reach of the two enterprises, and allows both gangs new resources and territory to operate within.”

Meanwhile, the affidavit states, SNM members incarcerated in the federal system have been discussing reorganizing the gang, imposing new rules, such as requiring two “carnales” or SNM members to be present anytime they speak with prison or jail staff to ensure no one is telling on the gang.

“Probably the most disruptive feature of the prosecution, in gang terms, was the fact so many of the SNM’s members cooperated with the government,” the affidavit stated. Dozens of SNM members, including some top leaders, left the gang to help the government in its racketeering case, with several testifying at trial they knew they would be “marked for death” by the SNM in the future.

In 2019, one former SNM member who became a government witness was shot and killed in his home’s driveway in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Another informant who had been providing information was assaulted and stabbed in November 2020 at a Grants area prison, and two government witnesses have been assaulted there since July.

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