Federal meth conspiracy case linked to Mexican cartel in Douglas County continues two years later

In 2013, 18 people thought by law enforcement officials to be connected with a Mexican drug cartel were indicted by a grand jury on suspicion of involvement in a methamphetamine conspiracy that involved using a rural Douglas County home as a manufacturing hub.

Two years later, the case is ongoing. Some of the defendants have pleaded to charges and been sentenced in Federal District Court in Kansas City, Kan., while others have not yet resolved their cases.

The indictments followed the August 2013 seizure by the Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit of nearly 25 pounds of methamphetamine from a house at 2174 North 700 Road in rural Eudora. The indictment alleged that beginning on about May 1, 2013, Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez, Monica Ortiz-Soto and Benito Olivas-Yanez began using the residence to distribute methamphetamine.

The indictment alleged that the defendants “knowingly and intentionally combined, conspired and agreed together and with each other … to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine.”

Police also seized a 9 mm handgun and several thousand dollars in cash in the August raid. During a news conference unveiling the raid, police estimated that the street value of the drugs was nearly $1 million, making it the largest meth bust ever in the Douglas County area.

At the time, Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman, said investigators had “a clear and direct connection to the Mexican drug cartel. People might think this isn’t happening, but they’re wrong.”

So far, defendants Stephen Rowlette, Jose Ruiz, Miguel Corona-Monjo, Humberto Rascon-Frias, Fidel Zavala, Eliser Lopez-Arenas, Chrystal Cook, Manuel Lopez-Deharo, Alejandro Santos-Valderama and Juan Gonzalez-Bartolo have all taken plea deals with the prosecution, according to federal court records.

Rowlette, Ruiz, Zavala and Lopez-Arenas pleaded to a charge of “conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine. Santos-Valderama pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the “possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine.”

Cook pleaded to misprision of felony, which, according to United States law, is a person who “(had) knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, (but) conceal(ed) and (did) not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States.”

Benito Olivas-Yanez is expected to enter a plea on Dec. 2.

The remaining defendants — Eugenio Garcia-Estrada, Monica Ortiz-Soto, Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez, Jose Lopez-Ruiz and Raul Ramirez-Flores — have not yet resolved their cases in federal court, according to court records. Further hearings in their cases will be set in the future, but none is scheduled at this time, according to the U.S. District Court Clerk’s Office.

United States District Judge Julie Robinson sentenced Ruiz to 14 years; Zavala and Lopez-Arena to 10 years; Cook to nearly three years; Santos Valderama to four years and Gonzalez-Bartolo to eight years, according to federal court documents.

Lopez-Deharo has a sentencing hearing coming up on Jan. 19. Corona-Monjo and Humberto Rascon-Frias will be sentenced June 13, 2016, according to court records.

Information regarding Rowlette’s sentencing was not available in federal court records, as the last entries on his case involved a series of sealed motions leading up to June 26, 2015. Rowlette faces between 20 and 66 years in prison, according to his plea agreement.

Ezequiel Olivas-Yanez, was also one of two men arrested and charged with felonies related to a cockfighting operation at the rural Douglas County residence. Olivas-Yanez pleaded guilty and was eventually sentenced to probation in 2011 following a four-year investigation that led to the seizure of 118 gamecocks, 48 hens and three chicks, according to the office of Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson.