3 in Sheriff's Office accused of drug, human smuggling
by JJ Hensley - May. 25, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Three Maricopa County sheriff's employees, including a deputy in the
human-smuggling unit, were arrested Tuesday by authorities who say
they were involved in a drug- and human-trafficking ring and used
Sheriff's Office intelligence to guide smugglers through the Valley.
Deputy Alfredo Navarrette, 37, has worked with the Sheriff's Office
for nearly a decade, serving in a special unit designed to target
human smugglers moving through Maricopa County. But investigators
believe Navarrette was himself involved in human smuggling.
Investigators found two undocumented immigrants in Navarrette's home
when he was arrested early Tuesday morning in a sweep that concluded
a yearlong investigation.
"The fight against drugs, illegal immigration and human trafficking
is important not only to me but the citizens of Arizona," Sheriff Joe
Arpaio said. "That a deputy sheriff would provide information and
associate with these drug and human traffickers is despicable."
Investigators from a multijurisdiction drug task force also arrested
two sheriff's detention officers, Sylvia Najera, 25, and Marcella
Hernandez, 28. They are accused of laundering money and moving drugs
for a Valley-based drug-trafficking organization with ties to Mexico.
Arpaio said Hernandez is eight months' pregnant with the child of
another suspect arrested Tuesday, Francisco "Lorenzo" Arce-Torres,
who is described in court records as a member of the Sinaloa drug
cartel and the leader of the Phoenix-based drug-trafficking
organization at the heart of the probe.
Court records indicate Hernandez had $20,000 cash on her when she and
Najera were arrested Tuesday morning on their way to work at the
Lower Buckeye Jail.
12 suspects held
The sheriff's employees were among 12 suspects arrested Tuesday
during a series of early-morning raids at 16 locations throughout the
Valley where investigators had targeted members of the organization.
The group mostly moved heroin, according to investigators, and
officials suspect each of the arrested sheriff's employees played a
crucial role in moving the drugs and hiding the illicit profits.
Authorities say the ring moved about $56,000 worth of heroin a week
through the Valley.
Arce-Torres, who authorities say was the ringleader, arranged for
heroin to be brought into the Valley after his brothers produced the
drug on the family's ranch in Mexico, according to Superior Court and
Justice Court documents filed Tuesday.
Once the drugs arrived in Arizona, they were shipped to two houses in
the West Valley, where the heroin was diluted to create more product,
investigators said in the court documents.
Hernandez's brother, Duran Joseph Alcantar, who was also among those
arrested, is suspected of operating one of the stash houses, and
investigators believe Hernandez coordinated the pickup and delivery
of heroin from the drug houses.
Investigators say they believe Navarrette helped the ring by
fortifying Arce-Torres' home with surveillance cameras, registering
drug-courier vehicles in his name and laundering money.
Navarrette and Najera, the other arrested detention officer, helped
set up a shell corporation called West Utilities Group Inc., which
was used earlier this month to launder nearly $50,000 in drug
proceeds, according to court documents.
Najera's name appears on West Utilities Group's corporation filings
in Arizona, along with that of a Phoenix construction company owner
who was arrested on suspicion of laundering money for the organization.
Investigators believe that, in addition to laundering money and doing
other chores for the ring, Navarrette himself was smuggling humans.
"Navarrette assists this (human smuggling) organization by operating
a drophouse and on at least five occasions transported illegal aliens
from Arizona to California for the organization," records state.
A tip about the ring came into the sheriff's special-investigations
unit almost a year ago, and the investigation moved slowly at the
outset, according to sheriff's officials.
Navarrette remained on patrol duty until he was moved to the
sheriff's training facility a couple of months ago for a violation of
office policy that was unrelated to his suspected role in the
Sheriff's officials said the probe was unique and had to be handled
delicately because of the serious criminal allegations against law-
enforcement employees. That meant that transferring one of the
suspects to another role within the office, or even pulling personnel
files, could have been enough to tip off friends that something was
afoot and risk spoiling the investigation.
Navarrette had the most opportunity to gather information and
influence investigations because of his work on the streets. Even he
could not be moved out of his role in the human-smuggling unit,
however, until supervisors found a violation of office policy that
gave them reason to move him without compromising the probe.
"There was not enough to take any action against him, either, until
very recently," said Deputy Chief Brian Sands, who oversees the human-
Navarrette has been with the Sheriff's Office since 2001 and worked
in a variety of roles, including patrol and court services, in
addition to his role with the human-smuggling unit.
Rosters for the unit indicate that Navarrette was a member from the
earliest days of the sheriff's controversial "crime-suppression
operations," when deputies and posse members flood a region of the
Valley looking for minor traffic violations and potential immigration
Arpaio said he believed Navarrette used information from those
operations and his position in law enforcement to help coordinate the
movement of contraband through the Valley.
"He repeatedly supplied details about the illegal-immigration crime-
suppression operation to leaders of the drug-trafficking
organization," Arpaio said. "This action placed numerous deputies,
reserves and posse volunteers in harm's way while they were
volunteering and conducting operations."
Arpaio could not say when Navarrette last worked on a crime-
suppression operation with the human-smuggling unit.
The investigation went public when search warrants were served and a
series of arrests were made Tuesday. But officials say the probe
could last for months and target other suspects.
A few additional sheriff's employees were being interviewed Tuesday
night, Arpaio said, to determine what they may know of the suspects'
activities in the Sheriff's Office. "Doesn't mean they're guilty of
anything," Arpaio added.
Investigators are also trying to determine the extent of the ties
between the suspects and members of multinational drug-trafficking
organizations operating in Arizona.
Navarrette was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail on suspicion of 19
violations including conspiracy, money laundering and human
smuggling. He was being held on a $1 million cash bond.
Hernandez, booked on suspicion of committing 11 violations, including
conspiracy, drug crimes and money laundering, was placed under a $2
million cash bond at a Tuesday court appearance. The reasoning for
the $1 million bond disparity was laid out in court documents for
Hernandez, who just returned from a trip to San Luis, Mexico, with
Arce-Torres, suspected of being the ringleader.
"Hernandez has said that she, Torres and co-conspirator Navarrette
have talked about leaving the U.S. and living on one of Torres'
ranches in Mexico," the documents state.
Najera was in custody Tuesday and faced money-laundering and other
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