Seven alleged members of a Southern California drug trafficking ring who used BMW “trap cars” to deal pounds of cocaine and heroin from Mexico have been charged in a federal indictment, prosecutors said Thursday.
Five of the defendants were arrested Thursday as federal prosecutors announced the indictment as well as the seizure of 20 kilograms of cocaine — or just over 44 pounds — along with multiple firearms, three trap cars and equipment used for making butane honey oil, the THC-heavy substance.
Authorities said at least $71,000 in cash and several other pounds of narcotics were seized from the drug ring last year.
The defendants have been charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The crimes occurred between December 2017 and July 2018, according to prosecutors.
They each face mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years in federal prison and up to life in prison if convicted as charged.
Joel Antonio Villegas, a.k.a. “Junior,” and William Ariel Moreno, both of Downey, are described by prosecutors as the ringleaders of the operation. The other defendants include Ronny Rizo, Maria Esther Ponce, Jonathan Ortiz and Milton Amilcar Ponce.
Ortiz, 30, and Milton Ponce, 31 are believed to be fugitives as authorities are still searching for them.
Villegas, 31, would allegedly obtain drugs from a Mexican supplier and distribute the narcotics from the Los Angeles area to other parts of the U.S. He directed his co-conspirators to buy two 2005 BMW X5 SUVs that would be outfitted with secret compartments to carry the drugs, according to prosecutors.
His other method of transporting drugs was commercially shipping them, rather than sending them by mail, as he told his co-conspirators this “better ensured” law enforcement would not find and seize the drugs, according to the indictment.
Villegas allegedly arranged for two crates with 55 pounds of marijuana and honey oil to be shipped to Orlando, Florida in one such instance.
In April 2018, two BMWs used in the drug trafficking ring were both stopped on the same day at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to prosecutors. Inside the vehicles, hidden compartments in the engine manifolds allegedly contained multiple kilograms of cocaine and heroin.
Villegas and another defendant in the case have been charged with possessing with intent to distribute 13.3 pounds of cocaine. Two others have been charged with possessing with intent to distribute 11 pounds of cocaine.