Head of Southern California-based drug trafficking organization sentenced to 15 years

SAN DIEGO — A Southern California man has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for overseeing a family-run drug trafficking organization that recruited young women to smuggle large loads of narcotics into the U.S. through California's ports of entry, often using high-end vehicles.

Jesus Manuel Rivera-Villareal, aka "Chuy," 33, was sentenced May 12 on charges stemming from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Diego. Rivera-Villareal pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiring to import methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin into the U.S. from Mexico. He was originally arrested in San Bernardino in September 2013 on a federal warrant charging him in the drug trafficking conspiracy.

"This investigation opens a window into the hierarchy of family-operated drug trafficking organizations, which maintain ties to major drug cartels while conducting local operations," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. "I commend the hard work by our special agents who succeeded once again in dismantling a cross-border criminal organization that recruited from our local communities."

In August 2011, HSI San Diego began investigating a suspected cross-border drug trafficking organization operating between Riverside County and Mexicali/Tijuana, Mexico. During the investigation, agents linked multiple drug loads intercepted at the ports of entry to the organization headed by Rivera. His father and brothers were also members.

Agents say Rivera and another man assumed control of the drug trafficking organization after Rivera's father was deported from the U.S. for a drug-related offense. After taking over, Rivera recruited couriers in the U.S. to deliver loads of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to multiple cities throughout Southern California, as well as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Agents conservatively estimate the organization has imported nearly 200 pounds of narcotics since 2011.

According to court records, Rivera and an associate hired at least five young women from the Riverside area to smuggle narcotics, including methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Rivera traveled to Mexicali where he arranged to have the narcotics loaded into vehicle compartments. He then paid the women to drive the drug-laden vehicles from Mexico into the U.S. Rivera's organization used both foreign and domestic vehicles, ranging from BMWs to Ford Expeditions, as part of the smuggling scheme. Most of the loads were hidden inside specially built vehicle compartments.

"This case demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. Department of Justice to keep dangerous drugs off the streets of our community by aggressively prosecuting high-level leaders of drug trafficking organizations," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.