By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer
It took only a conversation to lure truck driver Efren Gonzalez-Perez into the world of Mexican drug cartels.
Gonzalez-Perez was approached last winter outside a Mexican dentist office near the U.S.-Mexico border, where he said “everyone knows he is a truck driver.”
A man told Gonzalez-Perez to drive his truck to Indianapolis and pick up $500,000 cash before returning to the southwest border, Gonzalez-Perez later told investigators. He delivered the money to a truck stop in McAllen, TX, using a hidden compartment in his trailer.
In March, Gonzalez-Perez became the first of at least four defendants charged in a large-scale drug-running operation last week originating from drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border. Two men arrested in the operation are allegedly illegal immigrants. Others, including Gonzalez-Perez, are facing multiple felony charges.
In March, police conducting a traffic stop at a west Indianapolis truck stop used a canine to determine drugs were present in Gonzalez-Perez’s Freightliner. Gonzalez-Perez had been pulled over in west Indianapolis.
Police found $500,000 in a hidden compartment in the trailer’s ceiling. Later, nearly another $4 million in cash was found in related searches at an Indianapolis warehouse last week and in a truck pulled over in Arkansas in late September.
The investigation resulted in police seizing more than 5 tons of marijuana and $4.3 million in cash and drug proceeds.
U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett said the drug bust was the largest in Marion County history and possibly the largest in Indiana history.
“The DEA and Metro Drug made history last week,” Hogsett said, according to a statement. “Not only will taking these drugs off of the streets have a profound direct effect on this community, I am also proud to announce that the millions in cash taken from the Mexican drug lords will help fund public safety efforts in Indianapolis and throughout central Indiana for years to come.”
Department of Justice Spokesman Tim Horty told Land Line Now Tuesday, Oct. 25, that investigators believe Indianapolis was used as a distribution point by the cartel.
“We believe they’re being loaded somewhere south of the border and brought to the United States,” Horty said. “The same vehicle was being used to transport cash back across the border.”
“We think this business has been going on at least since March of this year,” Horty said. “It’s our hope we get to the bottom of it, and see if we can trace it even further up the food chain when it comes to narcotics distribution here in the United States.
Ramirez, Perez, Castaneda and Toledo each face charges stemming from a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distributing 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana. Castaneda and Toledo have been identified as being “illegally inside the country,” the Department of Justice said.
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and the Metropolitan Drug Task Force.
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Land Line Now Reporter Reed Black contributed to this article.