By Shane Sanderson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A Wyoming woman was involved in an international methamphetamine distribution conspiracy connected to a Mexican cartel, prosecutors alleged in federal court filings unsealed Tuesday.
By the end of the day Tuesday, police had arrested 33 of the 43 people charged in the case and seized roughly 80 pounds of meth, four guns and more than $100,000 cash, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Southern California said in a statement released Tuesday. Although prosecutors filed the indictment Friday, it remained under seal until Tuesday.
The vast majority of the defendants live in southern California.
However, Billie Jo Reynolds, 40, of Gillette, was one of 10 people that law enforcement was still seeking on Wednesday evening. Online court records indicate she faces a single count of conspiracy to launder money and a single count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Court documents and the government’s statement do not specify if any of the money, drugs or guns were seized in Wyoming.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Sausedo, who is one of two federal prosecutors handling the case, said Reynolds has previously been convicted of meth distribution in federal court.
Reynolds pleaded guilty in 2005 to distributing more than a kilogram of methamphetamine. She was released from federal prison prison in 2007, according to online Bureau of Prisons records.
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey, Virginia, Texas and Arkansas have also charged people in connection to the case, as have the Florida Office of the Attorney General and the Yuma, Arizona, County Attorney’s Office.
Among the 18 law enforcement agencies involved in investigating the federal case in California are the DEA, the IRS and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Local law enforcement from California, Texas and Florida have also worked the case as have the Abu Dhabi Police. Information made available does not specify the nature of the prison agency’s involvement in the investigation.
Information available Wednesday did not identify what specific actions prosecutors will say Reynolds took as part of the alleged conspiracy. In the statement, prosecutors allege that the conspiracy consisted of a distribution network based out of San Diego. From Southern California, participants used the postal service and FedEx to send — both around the country and to the United Arab Emirates — meth and GHB, which is a drug that can be used recreationally but has also been tied to the facilitation of sexual assaults.
The drugs were sent on a weekly to basis to hotels, homes and rentals from the online service Airbnb, prosecutors said. People involved in the scheme also created FedEx accounts, which they then billed to large corporations, in an attempt to hide the distribution among the corporations’ high volume of shipments, according to the statement.
People receiving the drugs would then pay the Californians by mailing cash, depositing money directly into bank accounts and through online money transfer apps like Venmo, the prosecutor’s office says.
“Today we have completely dismantled this San Diego-based international drug trafficking network with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer in a written statement. “Replicating this kind of aggressive law enforcement takedown is critical to breaking the backs of these criminal networks and continuing our efforts against the Sinaloa Cartel.”
Prosecutors did not specify the nature of the alleged conspiracy’s connection to the Sinaloa Cartel. It is not the first time federal prosecutors have alleged a Wyoming connection to the criminal organization, however.
In February, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming filed a civil complaint alleging three Wyoming restaurants participated in a multi-state drug money laundering scheme that implicated Colorado restaurants and had ties to San Diego drug distributors. A judge earlier this month put the civil case on hold for six months so law enforcement could continue a related criminal investigation.
The details of that criminal investigation have not yet been made publicly available and prosecutors have not indicated that there is any connection to the case unsealed this week in southern California.
Sausedo, the federal prosecutor based in California, said he did not know of any connection between the two cases.
Authorities say the cartel has used violent tactics to facilitate the smuggling of billions of dollars of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the United States. Earlier this year, a jury convicted Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a Sinaloa cartel leader and one of the world’s more notorious criminals, of various federal crimes, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and international drug distribution.