By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A 1996 Ford Windstar van used to smuggle cocaine into town is registered to a Mississippi address suspected of being a narcotics stash house for a large-scale Mexican drug trafficking ring, court papers show.
The federal indictment Wednesday of two local men and three men from Georgia has linked cocaine distribution at motel rooms in the Youngstown area to the 1996 van, which crossed the Texas-Mexico border twice last September.
Local Drug Enforcement Administration agents have learned that the Mexican drug trafficking ring distributes huge quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Transport vehicles, such as the 1996 van, have secret compartments to conceal drugs and cash.
The five-count indictment charges these men with conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine:
U Richard E. North Jr., 33, of Georgia and Youngstown. He and the Georgia men are accused of transporting large quantities of cocaine from Atlanta to Youngstown. His record shows drug and weapons charges in Liberty and Youngstown. Disposition of the charges wasn't available.
UAnthony T. Walter, 35, of 484 Clearmont Drive, Youngstown. He is accused of accepting shipments of cocaine from North for resale. Walter's house is owned by a relative of North's. Walter's record show a charge of aggravated trafficking drugs. Disposition wasn't immediately available.
U Filiberto Mendoza-Gudino, 20, of Georgia. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has placed a hold on him.
UErnesto Cabrales, 27, of Georgia. Same.
U Juan C. Oliva, 22, of Georgia. Same.
U.S. Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert ordered that all five remain in pretrial custody. They are at the Mahoning County jail.
If convicted, they face a mandatory 10 years in prison.
The case is being prosecuted by Steven L. Jackson, an assistant U.S. attorney. It was investigated by the local DEA task force and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Erik Kochanowski, special agent in charge of the Youngstown DEA, said street value of the cocaine was likely $80 to $100 per gram -- $400,000 to $500,000 for the 11 pounds.
In December, DEA agents followed tips provided by a confidential informant and set up surveillance, court papers show. The indictment shows that the Georgia men have stayed at the Days Inn in Austintown and Microtel and Red Roof Inn in Boardman. Agents learned that the drug trafficking ring uses hotel rooms to conduct business.
Last month, DEA agents searched a room at the Microtel and found cocaine residue in discarded plastic bags after the Georgia men checked out. Agents also searched a room at the Red Roof Inn, where they arrested Mendoza-Gudino and Oliva, seized $150,620, a loaded 9 mm gun and a plastic bag that contained cocaine residue.
North and Cabrales, who had a 9 mm handgun in his waistband, were arrested during a traffic stop. A 9 mm gun and cocaine were found in a Pontiac driven by North, and $56,770 was found in one of the Ford van's secret compartments, the government said.
When agents went to search Walter's residence, he met them in the driveway and agreed to show them where he'd hidden the cocaine under his bed, court papers show. The house is roughly 500 feet from the city's Weed & amp; Seed headquarters and Sheridan Elementary School.
Weed & amp; Seed is a federally funded program that puts extra police in high-crime neighborhoods on the South Side. It is based in Martin Luther Lutheran Church.