20 indicted in Inland Empire heroin investigation
A rash of deaths from black-tar heroin overdoses in Redlands in late 2010 led authorities to an investigation that has culminated in the indictment of 20 people who made up an alleged “cell” of traffickers in the Inland Empire.
So far, 15 of the 20 people indicted have been arrested -- with the last three arrested since Friday; five named in the indictment are still at large, authorities said.
Redlands police said the cell was bringing in a pound of heroin a week into Redlands, Highland and Yucaipa –- all of it supplied from Mexico. The cell operated in “pyramid” fashion, Redlands police said, with a local supplier and runners who supplied street-level dealers who sold to local addicts.
The investigation began after a series of deaths in the area between August 2010 and January 2011. It was conducted by Redlands Police, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Press-Enterprise newspaper reported that 11 young people, many of them high school students, have died of heroin overdoses in recent years in the Redlands area. Some had been first addicted to Oxycontin, a prescription opiate pain reliever, and switched to black-tar heroin because it was cheaper, the newspaper reported.
Black-tar heroin is a semi-processed form of heroin, which is dark and sticky and manufactured in several northwest Mexican states.
Charged in the indictment are: Salvador Gonzalez-Chavez, 29, Fontana; Jose Perez Hernandez, 27, San Bernardino; John James Flores, 63, Redlands; Victor Hugo Padron Mendez, 35, Rialto; Luz Maria Medina-Nieves, 29, Fontana; Jimmy Nieves, 27, Fontana; Luz Myriam Nieves-Cruz, 49, Fontana; Angela Aragonez, 45, Redlands; Peter Francisco Flores, 29, Redlands; Daniel Martinez, 57, Redlands; Steven Kelly Olalia, 37, Redlands; Fabian Jose-Maria Villanueva, 27, San Bernardino; Alvaro Medina, 20, Pomona; Mario Sandoval, 27, Pomona; Lupe Hidalgo-Martinez, 49, Fontana; Nereida Cynthia Puente, 41, Hesperia; Fernando Salazar, 42, El Centro; Roberto Gutierrez, 57, Cypress; David Reyes-Sandoval, 52, Redlands; and Irene Arvizu, 56, San Bernardino.
Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Redlands Police dispatch at (909) 798-7681. Callers may remain anonymous. Anonymous tips can also be provided by texting 274637 using the keyword "REDTIP."
-- Sam Quinones