First Posted: 2/27/2009
Local officers have seized 19 ounces of cocaine and arrested three people suspected to be part of an ongoing drug pipeline from Mexico to the United States which is being aided by lax immigration enforcement.
The suspects, all from out of town, were taken into custody Thursday as part of a joint investigation involving the Surry County Sheriffs Office, Mount Airy Police Department, State Bureau of Investigation and Stokes County Sheriffs Office.
Two of the men were confirmed to be in the country illegally.
In addition to plastic bags of cocaine, the investigation resulted in the seizure of three handguns, two cars and digital scales.
County and city authorities said during a joint news conference Friday that based on information gathered by undercover officers, the three men were expected be in a certain area this week, likely in possession of cocaine transported from Burlington.
That led to the trio being taken into custody about 1 a.m. Thursday on U.S. 601, just inside the Mount Airy city limits. As part of the arrests, authorities also searched a private residence, the location of which Sheriff Graham Atkinson declined to specify Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.
Those arrested were Fernando Martinez Perez, AKA Primo, who is 24 and resides at 2471 43rd Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Juan Manuel Camancho-Pineda Jr., 25 of 2624 E. Simpson Road, Burlington; and Basilio Vargas Vasquez, 21, of 1208 Wyatt Road in Burlington.
Perez was charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine and was jailed under a $250,000 bond. Camacho-Pineda is accused of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, with bond set at $150,000. Vasquez was charged with trafficking cocaine, possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine and maintaining a drug vehicle. His bond was set at $250,000.
All three suspects are scheduled to appear in Surry District Court on March 25.
Authorities say the investigation is continuing, and is expected to lead to additional arrests as it progresses.
Thursdays arrest was the second major drug bust locally this month, coming on the heels of the seizure of more than 800 pounds of marijuana and charges against four men on Feb. 9.
Atkinson said the two cases are totally separate.
However, they are part of the same law enforcement phenomenon being accompanied by continuing shipments of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine from Mexico to the U.S. Its a problem complicated by a situation with illegal immigration that is allowing people, drugs and weapons to move in and out of the country freely.
In the past, cocaine was produced in Colombia and shipped into America via Mexico, with Hispanics used as mules to smuggle it into this country, according to the sheriff.
What they (federal officials) found when they started doing bigger seizures was that the people in Mexico decided it was in their best interest if the Colombians would ship it to them basically, and they would take over distribution from there completely, Atkinson said.
This has fueled civil wars inside Mexico and caused increased violence at the border with Texas. Its because theyre not just doing the mule thing anymore, the sheriff said of the Mexicans, theyre buying and selling it.
Authorities said Friday that the three men arrested Thursday are representative of the present drug-smuggling network.
With two of the suspects identified as illegals, Atkinson said the immigration mess is exactly the problem weve got in such cases, since it is allowing these criminal enterprises to thrive.
Because what you have is a certain segment of people that come here to work to try to make a better life for themselves and be good citizens, but it also opens the door up for other people that want to come in, the sheriff said.
This has fostered an environment in which a number of people in Mexico dont see any reason not to engage in drug trafficking in the U.S. Theyve got so many people down there that are living in total poverty that theyre willing to take the chance, Atkinson said.
One tool that Mount Airy and Surry County authorities are trying to employ in response is pooling their resources to attack the problem, also with the help other of agencies such as Stokes County officers and SBI agents.
Some 15 city and county officers were involved in the operation that produced Thursdays arrests.
An operation like this requires a lot of manpower and a lot of time, Mount Airy Police Chief Roger McCreary said at Fridays news conference. And doing it independently would be about impossible. But putting our resources together makes it work better and makes it possible.
Atkinson said that along with the combined manpower, there is another strategic reason for such joint investigations.
We know that drug dealers dont respect jurisdictional lines, the sheriff said. They dont stop at the Mount Airy city limits and pick it up again at the county line.
We know they are going to try to use those jurisdictional lines to stop us, he added. When were all together being able to move freely around, and have jurisdiction and have extra help, it makes the operation work better.
McCreary and Atkinson said such efforts have allowed more attention to be focused on the higher-echelon drug shippers as opposed to street-level dealers.
They conceded Friday that only a fraction likely much less than 10 percent of the drug trafficking is actually being halted through arrests.
However, one officer, who is not being identified due to his undercover presence, pointed out Friday that every arrest will take at least one trafficker out of circulation.
Referring to Thursdays arrests, he added, Its just three less people off the street that we have to deal with.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.