A Riverside resident is one of 46 people indicted by federal authorities for conspiring to deliver tons of cocaine and heroin into the United States for Mexican drug cartels. Francisco Espinoza, 27, was reputedly part of a crew responsible for being bag men for twin brothers who directed drug operations in Chicago.
According to the indictment, announced Aug. 20 by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Pedro and Margarito Flores received drug deliveries in Chicago and Los Angeles and stored the narcotics in warehouses in the Chicago area where the drugs would be divided into smaller units for sale to street-level dealers.
Once the drugs were sold, Espinoza and others, according to the indictment, would collect the cash from the dealers and deliver it to storage locations where the money would be counted and packaged for delivery back to the Flores brothers and their Mexican suppliers.
According to Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, Espinoza’s last known address in Riverside was in the 3200 block of Harlem Avenue. However, Samborn said, U.S. officials believe that Espinoza is in Mexico at this time.
In addition to the indictment naming Espinoza, Holder announced two other indictments against the leaders of two rival Mexican cartels. The three indictments seek forfeiture of more than $1.8 billion in addition to vehicles, a semi-tractor truck and two Chicago-area residences that allegedly served as stash houses for drugs.
All 46 people charged face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted for their alleged roles in the conspiracy, according to a release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago.
Samborn said that the U.S. Attorney’s investigation into the drug cartel operation is ongoing.
Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office gave 3222 Harlem Ave. as Espinoza’s reputed Riverside address, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he believed federal investigators may have meant the apartment building next door to the north. The address given by federal officials is a Chinese restaurant whose owners live above.
Weitzel added that last week’s indictments do not appear to be related to a major cocaine bust police made in April in the 200 block of East Burlington Street in Riverside. On April 10 Berwyn police in conjunction with the West Suburban Directed Gang Enforcement (WEDGE) task force arrested Javier Villa-Orozco while looking for a robbery suspect.
“The DEA says that for him to have that amount of dope, there’s a tie to a Mexican cartel, but it’s not the same cell,” Weitzel said.
Inside 212 E. Burlington St., police allegedly found 30 kilos of cocaine, some of it hidden inside the walls of the rental home. The drugs had a street value of more than $1 million, according to police.
Villa-Orozco remains in Cook County Jail on $750,000 bond. His next court date is Aug. 31.
Police literally stumbled upon Villa-Orozco and the drug stash house. Prior to the April arrest, there were no complaints regarding that address and neighbors reportedly suspected nothing. Drug sales do not appear to have taken place at that address.
“Why do they pick suburban areas [like Riverside]?” Weitzel asked. “Because these are small communities with small police forces. They view it as low-risk.
Riverside police, assisted by WEDGE, shut down two reputed drug operations in the village in 2007. In both those instances, police were tipped off by increased foot and vehicle traffic at those locations.
“Nobody called us on Burlington; there was no suspicious activity. The house was well-maintained. There was no reason to suspect there was a million dollars in cocaine in that residence.”
Weitzel said federal authorities did not contact Riverside regarding their case against the Flores brothers and their organization in Chicago.
“This is a much more regional problem than some people realize,” Weitzel said. “The U.S. Attorney told us nothing.”
Locally, Weitzel said his department continues to follow up claims of drug distribution and, even now, has investigations underway in Riverside with the help of organizations like WEDGE.
“These are long-term investigations,” Weitzel said. “Residents are upset there’s no quick resolution, but we are working them.”
Weitzel also encouraged people to call the anonymous WEDGE tip line at 708-780-5277 or send an e-mail to email@example.com if they have concerns.