Thirty-four individuals are facing federal and tribal drug charges as the result of an 18-month multi-agency investigation spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) into methamphetamine trafficking on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Eighteen defendants, including five members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe and 13 non-Natives are charged in six indictments and a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico in November and December 2015. Sixteen other members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe are charged in tribal criminal complaints approved by the Mescalero Apache Tribal Court.
The investigation leading to the federal and tribal charges was initiated in May 2014 in response to an increase in violent crime on the Mescalero Apache Reservation perpetrated by methamphetamine users. The investigation initially targeted a drug trafficking organization allegedly led by Lorenzo Saenz, a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, which distributed methamphetamine within the Reservation. It later expanded to include two other drug trafficking organizations in southern New Mexico that allegedly served as sources of supply for the methamphetamine distributed within the reservation.
In August 2014, the investigation was designated as part of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, which combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. The investigation is one of the first OCDETF investigations to utilize electronic surveillance (wiretaps) in Indian Country. More than ten kilograms of methamphetamine were seized during the course of the investigation.
“Methamphetamine has a disproportionate devastating impact on tribal communities, accounting for up to 40 percent of violent crime on reservations,” said U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez of the District of New Mexico. “This investigation is an example of the Justice Department’s commitment to working with Tribal Governments to improve the safety of Native communities and increase awareness of the dangers of methamphetamine use.”
“I want to thank the BIA’s Division of Drug Enforcement and Office of Justice Services, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the many, many hours they put forth during this investigation,” said President Danny Breuninger of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. “Before and since taking Office as the President of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, I heard complaints from our Tribal Members and saw the pain and suffering caused by illegal drug use and sales on our Reservation. Many of our young people are being poisoned by methamphetamine and lives are being shattered by senseless drug-related injuries and deaths. As the leader of my Tribe, it is my job to do all I can to preserve the safety and welfare of our people and to preserve our culture, traditions and customs. The great majority of our Tribal Members are great people who work hard every day to support their families and raise their children with the values and traditions that have been passed down generation after generation. But continuing to do this is very hard when our Tribal Members’ lives are being torn apart by illegal drug use. I call on the federal government, including the President, the Attorney General and Congress, to continue supporting and working with BIA and tribal police departments in these types of collaborative efforts throughout Indian Country. Thank you again for all of the support and dedication in serving the Mescalero Apache Tribe.”
Saenz and four other members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe are charged in four federal indictments with distributing methamphetamine within the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Saenz and a co-defendant are alleged to have participated in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy during which they sold methamphetamine to undercover agents on multiple occasions. Saenz was one of two federal defendants arrested on Dec. 11, when 13 of the 16 tribal defendants were also arrested. A third federal Mescalero Apache defendant is in state custody on unrelated charges and the remaining two have yet to be arrested.
Thirteen non-Natives, alleged members of two drug trafficking organizations that supplied the methamphetamine distributed within the Mescalero Apache Reservation, are charged in two other federal indictments and a federal criminal complaint. Eight of the non-Natives are charged with methamphetamine trafficking and money laundering offenses in a 24-count indictment; three are charged with methamphetamine trafficking offenses in a five-count indictment; and two are charged with methamphetamine trafficking offenses in a criminal complaint. Eight of the non-Natives have been arrested, two are in state custody on unrelated charges and three have yet to be arrested.
“The DEA and Bureau of Indian Affairs dismantled three drug trafficking organizations distributing methamphetamine on the Mescalero Apache Reservation and across southeastern New Mexico,” said Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the DEA’s El Paso Division. “This is our warning to others who think they can hide their crimes on Tribal Lands: we are coming for you.”
“The BIA would like to thank the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for an outstanding collaborative effort that shows the resolve of our law enforcement partners to address the issue of illicit drug use in Indian Country and their dedication to provide safe communities for Indian people,” said Special Agent in Charge William McClure of District IV of BIA’s Office of Justice Services. “The many hours and resources that went in to this operation have increased the safety of tribal community members and reduced their fear of the danger posed by these individuals charged and their associates.”
“Methamphetamine continues to have a devastating effect on Native American families and communities throughout Indian Country,” said Regional Agent in Charge Gary Cunningham of BIA’s Division of Drug Enforcement. “The results of this multi-agency investigation are a great example of what can be accomplished when the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies combine efforts and resources to remove these drug trafficking organizations from our communities. Indian Country is grateful for these partnerships and BIA will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to aggressively remove these negative elements from our communities.”
The federal and tribal cases were investigated by the Las Cruces office of the DEA, District IV of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services (Mescalero Agency), BIA’s Division of Drug Enforcement, Mescalero Tribal Police Department, Hatch Police Department, FBI and Lea County Drug Task Force.
The following additional agencies assisted the investigating agencies with law enforcement operations on Nov. 20 and Dec. 11: U.S. Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Border Patrol, New Mexico State Police, HIDTA Interagency Metro Narcotics, New Mexico National Guard, Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force, Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, Alamogordo Police Department, Ruidoso Police Department, Socorro Police Department Sunland Park Police Department and Tularosa Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri J. Abernathy of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office is prosecuting the federal cases and Mescalero Tribal Prosecutor Alta Braham is prosecuting the tribal cases.
Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.