19 facing federal charges in alleged scheme to sell heroin by taking fake Mexican food phone orders at O.C. call centers

Local news

Nineteen people have been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly distributing at least $2 million worth of heroin through call centers in Orange County that took phone orders for deliveries of the drugs, authorities announced.

At the “Operation Horse Caller” news conference held Tuesday, the FBI detailed how the heroin scheme worked.

“Customers seeking heroin called the call center using coded language largely referencing Mexican food,” Kristi Johnson, FBI assistant director in charge, said. “For example, a taco or an enchilada would be used for the type of order. The call takers would then send a runner to a parking lot in Orange County to deliver the heroin to the caller in exchange for cash.”

While seven of the suspects are fugitives, 12 others are in custody and were slated to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon on narcotics and money laundering charges in a federal Santa Ana courtroom, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.

Authorities allege that from March 2017 to April of this year, brothers Julio Cesar Martinez, aka “Primo,” 43, of Riverside, and Victor Martinez, aka “Hector,” 44, of Hemet, operated a heroin distribution organization in Orange County, obtaining the drug from suppliers in Mexico and the U.S. 

The heroin was transported to Orange County by couriers who “concealed the drug, sometimes in their body cavities.”

The brothers were allegedly assisted in the daily call center’s heroin operations by Maricela Guerrero, aka “Carla,” 53, of Santa Ana, and Marla Portillo Cordova, aka “Yvette,” 34, also of Santa Ana, who are accused of accepting the telephone orders for heroin.

According to authorities, the helpers also directed other conspirators to deliver the heroin to buyers and collect payment in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.

In order to conceal the source of the organization’s income, the Martinez brothers allegedly had the money from the heroin sales deposited into bank accounts held by Cordova and others. Those deposits were then broken up and put into different banks to evade federal reporting requirements, authorities said.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Victor Martinez is also charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin, and, along with Cordova, is charged with four counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity. 

The charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and distribution of heroin each carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The charges of money laundering conspiracy and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity carry maximum sentences of 20 years and 10 years in federal prison.

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