SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- An Oakland drug ring that federal officials say was enabled by lax prosecution and contributed to what law enforcement calls a public health emergency in San Francisco Tenderloin District has been broken up in a multi-agency operation.
At a Wednesday morning press conference, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson announced charges against seven people who allegedly operated a drug trafficking operation in the Tenderloin while commuting from their homes in the East Bay. The indictment alleges that between July and December, the defendants routinely traveled to the Tenderloin to sell fentanyl, heroin and other narcotics to other drug pushers and directly to drug users.
The defendants were identified as Emilson Jonathan Cruz Mayorquin, aka "Playboy" (Cruz), 23; Leydis Yaneth Cruz (Leydis), 42; Ivan Mauro Mayorquin (Mayorquin), 35; Pamela Carrero aka "Nicole," aka "Kendra," 20; Ana Maldonado, 22; Adonis Torres, 33; and Mayer Benegas-Medina, 27.
According to the indictment, the organization was run primarily by Cruz and his mother, Leydis. The two allegedly worked with other associates including Cruz's significant other (Maldonado); Cruz's sister (Carrero) and her significant other (Torres); and another family member (Mayorquin) to engage in both street-level drug sales and sales to multiple re-sellers.
An eighth defendant, Gustabo Ramos, accused of obtaining and selling fentanyl from the group was also arrested.
Anderson said a hallmark of the operation was the movement of fentanyl and cited data from the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office of the Medical Examiner indicating fentanyl has led to the deaths of 300 people in San Francisco through the first eight months of 2020.
"This death toll does not include the many people who have come to the Tenderloin from San Bruno, Walnut Creek and other locations in the Bay Area to buy fentanyl and have died in their hometowns," said Anderson.
The Tenderloin drug trade is aided by the failure to prosecute drug crimes in the city, Anderson said, detailing why drug dealers are so successful in "a wonderful neighborhood that is being smothered by lawlessness."
"First, Tenderloin drug prices are abnormally low. Illegal drug prices are primarily a function of prosecution pressure and distance from the southern border. Relative to its distance from the southern border, the Tenderloin has drug prices that are low because prosecution pressure is low. Without more prosecution pressure the Tenderloin will continue to attract illegal drug buyers and sellers," said Anderson. "Second, Tenderloin drug trafficking is dominant by fentanyl ... Some drug user seek out fentanyl and intend to use it. But other users knowingly and unknowingly are now increasingly being sold fentanyl as a substitute or enhancement for heroin, crack cocaine, counterfeit pharmaceuticals and other drugs. Fentanyl has been estimated to be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
"Third, Tenderloin drug users and pushers are overwhelming not from the Tenderloin neighborhood. Tenderloin drug users and pushers have made it virtually impossible for residents in this neighborhood to live normal lives."
A statement from San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin's office disputed claims the office has been lax in prosecuting drug crimes in the Tenderloin District.
In fact, our office files charges in nearly 80 percent of felony drug cases that the police bring us," said spokeswoman Rachel Marshall. "Rather than partnering with the Trump administration in replicating the failed War on Drugs, I invite the U.S. Attorney to join me in demanding safe consumption sites—which the Trump administration has been blocking across the country. We need investment in a public health approach to prevent the two overdose deaths a day in San Francisco."
Last year, Anderson announced the Federal Initiative for the Tenderloin (FIT) to combine resources of more than 15 federal law enforcement agencies to combat endemic drug trafficking, firearms offenses, robberies and other crime in the neighborhood.
The initiative prioritizes federal charges for crimes within or associated with the Tenderloin, and as of March 2020 more than 150 defendants have been publicly charged as part of FIT. The charges include drug trafficking, human trafficking, unlawful possession of firearms, escape, robbery, and child pornography.
"Parents and children who are sheltering in place against the Covid virus find it impossible to leave their own homes because of open-air drug use and drug trafficking by people who have come to the Tenderloin from outside the neighborhood," said Anderson. "No neighborhood should be designated a law-free zone where dangerous drugs can be bought and sold with impunity."
"The Federal Initiative in the Tenderloin began more than a year ago with a focus on eradicating the open air drug markets operating in the area with impunity. This case is another example that our sustained efforts are making a difference and we do not intend to take our foot off the gas," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux. "The people who live and work in this community deserve a neighborhood in which the rule of law prevails."
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