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Six NC men arrested on drug charges are linked to Mexican cartel, feds say

Special Response Team (SRT) within Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) assault vehicle prepares for Operation Pipeline Express. Federal, state and local authorities announced the results of "Operation Pipeline Express," a 17-month multi-agency investigation responsible for dismantling a massive narcotics trafficking organization in the Arizona's western desert. (Paul Caffrey/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Six alleged members of a powerful Mexican drug cartel are in federal custody, accused of trafficking large sums of drugs and money through the Charlotte area for the past six years, court documents show.

The defendants, who federal authorities say were operating under the auspices of the Jalisco New Generation/Gulf Cartel in Mexico, are accused of moving shipments of cocaine and 100 percent pure methamphetamines through Mecklenburg and Iredell counties.

Federal agents have seized $200,000, which they say were the receipts from other drug operations that the group smuggled into the area from other drug transactions, court documents say.

As part of the investigation, investigators also had targeted five homes or apartments in Charlotte and Iredell County for searches. Five vehicles and a Statesville home have or will be seized, and 10 more cars and trucks are to be searched, documents show.

The Jalisco cartel is considered by many to be Mexico’s most powerful organized crime ring, accused of shooting down an Army helicopter in 2015 that left six Mexican soldiers dead, according to Business Insider in August 2018.

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That year, as the group quickly gained power, Jalisco also was linked to the ambush killing of 15 police officers near the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, the Washington Post says in a 2015 story.

The six Charlotte-area defendants, identified in court documents as Oscar Rangel-Gutierrez, Raul Rangel-Gutierrez, Francisco Garcia-Martinez, Rodolfo Martinez, Regulo Rangel-Gutierrez and Rigoberto Rangel-Gutierrez, are each charged with drug trafficking conspiracy involving methamphetamines and cocaine. They were arrested earlier last week.

None of the defendants have legal residency in the United States, the affidavit says, and Regulo Rangel-Gutierrez has a previous conviction for illegal reentry.

According to an affidavit from Special Agent Timothy Bradley of the Homeland Security Investigations, who is assigned to Charlotte, the group has been moving drugs and money from Texas and into the Southeast since 2013 with Oscar Rangel-Gutierrez as its leader.

In an affidavit detailing the investigation, Bradley said federal authorities used wiretaps, a confidential informant and surveillance to map out “the large scope of the Rangel-Gutierrez drug trafficking organization within the United State and beyond.”

As recently as Jan. 22, the affidavit says, Oscar and Regulo Rangel-Gutierrez used another defendant’s car to transport $80,000 netted from the sale of three kilograms of cocaine from Myrtle Beach to Houston.

On Feb. 9, the group drove to Houston to pick up five kilograms of cocaine, which led to the six arrests when they returned to Charlotte two days later, the affidavit says.

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Last May, according to Bradley’s affidavit, a joint investigation by various federal agencies began targeting Oscar Rangel-Gutierrez’ group as part of “Operation Lawless Town.”

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© 2019 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.