COLUMBIA, SC (WIS)- Agents with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency arrested seven people in connection with a cocaine and marijuana trafficking ring that stretched from Mexico into the Midlands. Agents estimate the group moved more than 8,000 pounds of marijuana through the state within the past year.
A federal affidavit from DEA agent Ronald Delfido stated that on January 29 at 6:30 a.m., agents arrested the ring's leader, Guadalberto Morales-Salazar, who is also wanted on state drug charges, at a warehouse on McLeod Road in Columbia, along with his girlfriend Lucila Martinez-Vivanco, who agents said was conducting counter-surveillance down the street from the warehouse.
That evening, DEA agents watched a tractor trailer driven by Gary Dean Farabee back into the McLeod Road warehouse where agents saw a forklift unload marijuana from the 18-wheeler and into a second trailer inside the building. Agents installed a "pole camera" outside the warehouse days before to conduct surveillance during the investigation.
Agents said the pair, along with Faustino Soriano-Flores, Hector Solorio and Heriberto Solorio used the warehouse as a delivery point, and used a West Columbia warehouse on Foster Brothers Drive as a "stash house" to store the drugs until they could be weighed, packaged and sold. Agents installed a "room bug" inside the Foster Brothers Drive warehouse to record the conversations inside, according to the affidavit.
The DEA arrested six of the suspects on McLeod Road Jan. 29, after the 18-wheeler left the area. Agents followed Farabee to a Pilot truck stop on N. Main Street at Interstate 20, and arrested the driver. Farabee told agents that "he didn't know what the drugs were, guessed it was either 'meth' or marijuana,'" according to the affidavit. The driver told agents that he didn't know anything about the others involved "other than they were 'Mexican,' the agent wrote. The driver told the DEA that he was paid $10,000 for delivering the drugs and that he had made three deliveries since Oct. 8, 2010, according to the agent.
That night, agents got two search warrants for the couple's North Chateau Drive home in Columbia and found between 10 and 20 pounds of marijuana, according to the complaint. Agents also searched a home on Green Pasture Lane in Elgin and found between 800 and 1,000 pounds of marijuana, a .380 caliber handgun and equipment used to process marijuana. During the same sweep, agents found nearly one ton of marijuana inside the McLeod Road warehouse.
SLED agents arrested the ring leader, Morales-Salazar last January after agents reported finding $1.1 million in a bedroom, nearly a half-ton of marijuana and 400 grams of cocaine inside his Leeside Circle home, according to the DEA. Moralez-Salazar shared the home with his girlfriend, Martinez-Vivanco, however, she was not charged in the 2010 bust. Morales-Salazar was released on bond, according to the DEA, but took off for Mexico and remained a fugitive ever since.
The current investigation shows that Martinez-Vivanco's participation in the ring was to run "counter-surveillance" on agents, organized truck driver deliveries and to collect drug money. On January 12 agents followed the woman into North Carolina where agents said they watched a Hispanic man get into the woman's Chevy Tahoe with a package. When the man got out of the vehicle, agents said he had nothing in his hands. When the woman drive back into South Carolina, agents had her stopped and found more than $158,200 inside a computer box and another $1,400 in her purse. Officers arrested Martinez-Vivanco and charged her with driving without a license.
Agents said Morales-Salazar charged between $800 and $900 for a pound of marijuana, which brings the total value of the conspiracy to around $7.2 million.
All defendants waived detention hearings Thursday and there was no bond set.