Operation Smack Dragon snagged 24 arrests Tuesday in a drug-trafficking ring tied to a Mexican cartel that authorities believe distributed about 2 kilograms of heroin a week in Tulsa.
U.S. Attorney Trent Shores made the announcement in a news conference at the Northern District of Oklahoma offices in Tulsa, unsealing a 73-count indictment against 29 individuals. Five defendants reportedly remain at large either in Mexico or elsewhere.
As search and arrest warrants were carried out Tuesday, law enforcement agencies reportedly seized 3 kilograms of heroin, $150,000 in drug proceeds, two firearms and four vehicles.
“We definitely created a void in the supply of heroin within Tulsa for the time being,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel-Lyn McCormick. “We’re not resting on that. However, we think with the individuals who have been targeted through this operation that it’s certainly going to have an impact on the supply of heroin in our community.”
McCormick, the case’s lead prosecutor, said the multiagency operation began in 2017 after investigators obtained information from individuals considered to be members with direct contact to the organization — the New Generation Cartel in Mexico.
The defendants were reportedly in and around Tulsa’s city limits, as well as other nearby communities.
Shores said four of the defendants were unlawfully in the U.S. The first defendant identified in the indictment, Stille Giovanni Gutierrez Vivanco, 34, led the drug-trafficking operation, Shores said.
“He had lieutenants, so to speak, here in Tulsa who operated as ‘cell heads,’” Shores said. “This organization’s clear hierarchy allowed it to be run from Mexico but to be executed here on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
The “cell heads” originally are from Mexico but lived in Tulsa, Shores said. The criminal organization would smuggle heroin across the border to storage locations in Tulsa to be distributed not just here but throughout the U.S.
A federal grand jury returned the indictment Thursday.
The Tulsa “cell heads” allegedly included Jose Garcia, 36, and Edson Garcia-Velasquez, 25.
Norman Fabian Huerta Avalos, 36, allegedly served various capacities, including coordinating assignments and serving as dispatch.
The other defendants were listed in the indictment with no identifying information other than first and last names and sometimes only nicknames. Other identifying information such as ages and cities of residence were not provided.
Officials declined to identify the five who remain at large, but noted the investigation is ongoing and more indictments are possible.
“We do anticipate that there will be other individuals that we’ve already identified as part of this initial indictment that will be charged in Tulsa County by District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler,” Shores said. “As we noted, there are a number of tiers to this organization. There are a number of individuals involved. To operate a continuing criminal enterprise of this extent involves a number of people.
“Twenty-nine defendants is no small indictment. That is one of the larger indictments that you will see, certainly here in the Northern District of Oklahoma.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations led Operation Smack Dragon. Partner agencies were the U.S. Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, the Oklahoma State Attorney General’s Office, the Tulsa Police Department and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.