Five Suspected Members of Drug Trafficking Ring Indicted on Federal Felony Charges

Family-Based Organization Alleged to Have 10-Year History of Trafficking Meth to Southwest Washington

By The Chronicle staff 
Posted 6/13/22

Five suspected members of a drug trafficking ring that brought a significant amount of methamphetamine to Southwest Washington were indicted last week in U.S. District Court for seven federal …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Five Suspected Members of Drug Trafficking Ring Indicted on Federal Felony Charges

Family-Based Organization Alleged to Have 10-Year History of Trafficking Meth to Southwest Washington

Posted

Five suspected members of a drug trafficking ring that brought a significant amount of methamphetamine to Southwest Washington were indicted last week in U.S. District Court for seven federal felonies related to drug trafficking, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown’s office announced Monday. 

Four of the five defendants — Jesus Venegas-Gatica, 35, of Lakewood; Jose Venegas-Gatica, 34, of Fresno, California; Juan Tolentino-Chino, 33, of Astoria, Oregon; and Cristobal Venegas Diaz, 47, of Centralia — were charged with drug trafficking-related offenses in Lewis County Superior Court last month after law enforcement executed a series of search warrants in Centralia and Lakewood as well as in Fresno, California, and Astoria, Oregon. 

The fifth indicted suspect, Esteban Martinez-Ortiz, 32, a citizen of Mexico, remains a fugitive and is being sought by law enforcement, according to Brown’s office. 

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Zachary Dillon in consultation with the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.

The investigation and subsequent court case built on previous investigations completed in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019 looking into a family-run drug operation referred to in court documents as “the Venegas DTO.”

The current case charges various large-scale methamphetamine deals in Cowlitz, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Pierce and Thurston counties. One informant reported that the Venegas family transported 20 to 25 kilograms of methamphetamine to Washington each month, according to a news release. In one instance, law enforcement caught a co-conspirator getting off an Amtrak train in Kelso with 55 pounds of methamphetamine in his luggage that he had transported from Sacramento, California.

“These defendants are responsible for huge loads of methamphetamine, which continues to cause death and destruction in our community,” said Brown. “In one instance they brought 55 pounds of methamphetamine to Western Washington via Amtrak train — fortunately law enforcement seized the drugs at the Kelso train station.”

Law enforcement have tied these defendants to trafficking more than 105 pounds of meth at locations ranging from casino parking lots to outlet mall stores, according to the news release. 



Some of the conspirators have been charged in state court over the last 10 years, but fled the jurisdiction and then returned using different names, according to the news release. 

Due to the large amounts of drugs involved, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term, according to the news release.

This investigation was conducted by the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Tacoma Resident Office and the Grays Harbor Drug Task Force. 

“The culmination of this investigation signifies the DEA’s unyielding pursuit of drug trafficking organizations,” said Jacob D. Galvan, acting special agent in charge of the DEA Seattle Field Division. “This organization was responsible for distributing more than 100 pounds of methamphetamine in Western Washington. The DEA, along with its federal, state and local partners will relentlessly pursue drug traffickers to keep our communities safe and healthy, no matter how long it takes.”

The four defendants who are in custody are being detained pending further hearings. 

Two suspects who were arrested as part of last month’s “dismantling” of the Venegas drug ring — Cutberto Hernandez-Gatica, 32, of Fresno, California and Hernestina Venegas-Gatica, 45, of Astoria, Oregon — and were not indicted in the federal case. Both have pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking-related charges in Lewis County Superior Court. They were both in custody at the Lewis County Jail on $250,000 bail each as of Monday morning. 

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here