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Skagit County Business Owner Sentenced to Prison For Laundering Money for Drug Cartel

Sentencing

Skagit County, WA – A Skagit County man who owned and operated businesses in Burlington and Sedro-Woolley was sentenced on January 17th, 2020 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 18-months in prison after pleading guilty in June to one count of “Conspiracy to commit money laundering”, for his role in knowingly laundering cash drug proceeds for a drug cartel.

According to a release from the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, an extensive 18-month  wiretap investigation revealed  41-year old Orlando Barajas who owned and operated Tacos El Antojito’ in the 600 block of East Fairhaven Avenue in  Burlington and El Antojito in the 900 block of 3rd street in Sedro-Woolley,  was knowingly transmitting drug proceeds to the Drug Cartel in  Mexico using the money remittance services offered at his store.

According to records filed in the case, BARAJAS conspired with the drug traffickers to send tens of thousands of dollars to Mexico in amounts structured to avoid any reporting requirements. BARAJAS created phony names to send the money, and passed along the passwords needed so that conspirators in Mexico could access the cash. In one three-week period he transmitted more than $27,000.  BARAJAS transmitted cash for the conspiracy for most of 2018 according to the release.

In early December 2018, law enforcement moved in on the organization after an 18-month investigation. More than 400 federal, state and local law enforcement officers executed fifty-one federal arrest warrants and served search warrants on more than 50 buildings and 35 vehicles. The United State Attorney’s Office released a list of twenty-nine people who had been arrested in Western Washington in connection with the multi-state investigation. The arrests included three individuals from Skagit County. They were identified at the time as 36-year old Jamie Heredia Castro of Burlington, 39-year old Jose Luis Sierra Barrientos of Burlington, and 40-year old Orlando Barajas of Burlington. The coconspirators distributed heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced counterfeit oxycodone pills in Washington State, New York, Arizona, Oregon, California, Tennessee, and Utah.

In Western Washington, the group distributed these drugs in Pierce, Kitsap, King, Skagit and Snohomish Counties. Over the course of the investigation law enforcement seized thousands of counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl, a powerful and potentially deadly opioid.  The investigation initially begun with drug seizures by the Bremerton Police Department. On November 28th, 2018, law enforcement seized more than 13-pounds of heroin from the engine compartment of a semi-truck driven by a frequent smuggler for the ring.  During the course of the investigation, Law Enforcement seized 39 firearms in one day during the operation and an additional 4-kilos of heroin.  Following one seizure from a vehicle, Washington State Patrol troopers were treated for their accidental exposure.

Judge Ronald Leighton noted at BARAJAS  sentencing hearing that money laundering “is a vital component of the cycle, which incentivizes the predatory practices of the cartel to produce, hide, transport, and ply their particular toxins to a waiting community.”

“Overdoses involving fentanyl are growing at an alarming rate in Washington State,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “We are committed to bringing all needed resources to identifying and prosecuting groups that distribute this deadly poison in our communities. I commend the Drug Enforcement Administration and their federal, state and local law enforcement partners who developed the evidence that led to the arrests that occurred today.”

Over the past several months leaders of the distribution conspiracy have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from four years to ten years each in prison.

This investigation was conducted by the DEA Tacoma Resident Office and the Bremerton Police Department, with significant assistance from the Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team (TNET), Special Operations Division, Chantilly, Virginia and Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).

The multi-agency takedown operation was supported by DEA Seattle; DEA Los Angeles; DEA San Diego, DEA San Francisco and DEA Phoenix; as well as Homeland Security Investigations; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Marshals Service; West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team; Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team; Grays Harbor Drug Task Force; Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force; Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team; Skagit County Inter-local Drug Enforcement Unit; Thurston County Narcotics Enforcement Team; Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team; Pierce County Sheriff’s Department; King County Sheriff’s Department; Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office; Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office; Aberdeen Police Department; Auburn Police Department; Bothell Police Department; Bremerton Police Department; Burlington Police Department; Fife Police Department, Seattle Police Department; Tacoma Police Department; Lakewood Police Department; Bonney Lake Police Department; Kent Police Department; Everett Police Department; Mill Creek Police Department; Quinault Nation Police Department; Hoquiam Police Department; Washington State Department of Corrections; Washington State Patrol; Mount Vernon Police Department; Oregon State Police; Washington and Oregon National Guard.

Tactical operations were conducted by DEA’s Special Response Teams (SRT) from Seattle and San Francisco. Additional support was provided by Bremerton Special Operations Group; Lakewood Special Operations; FBI SWAT; King County SWAT; Kitsap County SWAT; Mount Vernon SWAT; North Sound Metro SWAT, Pierce County Metro SWAT; Pierce County SWAT; Seattle PD SWAT; Snohomish County SWAT; Washington State Patrol SWAT; Skagit County HRT; Valley SWAT; and the U.S. Marshal’s Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force.

“An agency the size of Bremerton can impact crime on a larger scale when it is able to partner with agencies like the DEA,” said Bremerton Chief of Police James Burchett. “I am very proud of the hard work and dedication of all the officers and agents that made this operation a reality.”

Stopping the flow of cash to the cartels in Mexico is a key component in battling the flow of these dangerous drugs into our community,” said U.S. Attorney Moran. “This cartel-connected trafficking organization brought heroin and fentanyl into our communities. We will do all we can to stop the deadly toll of those drugs.”

“The dangerous pills containing fentanyl flowing through this pipeline operated by this Western Washington distribution network has been shut down,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Keith Weis. “Those profiting from pushing illicit opioids such as fentanyl and heroin into our most vulnerable communities will be met with a significant law enforcement response.”

 

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About the Author

Chris Nelson
I'm a long time Skagit County Resident. I believe in doing the right thing and helping others when you can.

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