“The sentencing of Mr. Navarrete is a major milestone in federal law enforcement’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle illegal trafficking operations of all kinds,” said FBI San Diego Special Agent in Charge, Stacey Moy. “We are proud to support our law enforcement partners in all efforts that target and take down crime organizations that threaten the citizens of the United
States of America.”
After a multi-year investigation, agents identified Navarrete, 33, of Culiacan, Mexico, as a major firearms trafficker for the Valenzuela Transnational Criminal Organization, a major U.S. supplier of cocaine and other controlled substances, including fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana from South America and Mexico.
“The (Valenzuela) Transnational Criminal Organization has brought death and suffering to countless people through their once prosperous criminal enterprise,” said Chad Plantz, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego.
“The sentencing of this firearms trafficker sends a resounding message to traffickers and criminals around the world that HSI and the law enforcement community will vehemently pursue those who seek to harm not only Americans, but humanity as a whole with their brutality and deadly drugs.”
Navarrete pleaded guilty in April 2023 to conspiring to import cocaine, distribute cocaine, commit money laundering and to smuggle goods from the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California.
This investigation has resulted in the charging of 109 defendants and the seizure of approximately 2,000 kilograms of cocaine and fentanyl, more than $16 million in cash and 21,000 rounds of ammunition, officials said.
“The amount of cash, ammunition and narcotics seized in this case is staggering,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “The collaboration in this case sends a clear message that the U.S.
Attorney’s Office will attack every facet of drug trafficking organizations from money to drugs to firearms. We will stay after it for as long as it takes to bring them to justice.”
Throughout 2020, the Valenzuela TCO, including one of its leaders, Jorge Alberto Valenzuela Valenzuela, was engaged in violent conflict with another component of the Sinaloa Cartel led by Ivan Archivaldo Guzman-Salazar.
During this conflict, Jorge’s brother and previous TCO leader, Gabriel Valenzuela Valenzuela, was killed. This led the Valenzuela TCO to procure large quantities of firearms, ammunition, tactical gear, armored vehicles and ballistic vests.
“Drug cartels use drug proceeds to purchase weapons and ammunition, fueling violence in our communities,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Shelly Howe. “DEA and our federal, state and local partners will continue to hold drug traffickers and the cartels responsible for the carnage and destruction they cause.”
A considerable number of these items were sourced from within the United States and smuggled into Mexico, using numerous arms trafficking networks.
Agents recovered hundreds of messages between Valenzuela and Navarrete in which they discussed firearms trafficking. Navarrete worked closely with Valenzuela and other high-ranking organization members to supply hundreds of firearms to the TCO, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
These firearms ranged from .50-caliber rifles, submachine guns and grenade launchers to assault rifles and handguns, officials said.
In addition to the weapons, Navarrete and his co-conspirators supplied tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition to the TCO. Some of these weapons and ammunition were acquired in the U.S., including in California, Arizona and Nevada, and then smuggled through the Ports of Entry in San Diego and Arizona into Mexico.
“Mr. Navarrete’s enablement of violence on both sides of the U.S.- Mexico border is over,” said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher, IRS Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office. “Crime leaves a money trail, and when we pool our resources, we are able to find the evidence necessary to lead to conviction. Navarrete is going to prison because of a well-coordinated joint investigation we are proud to have been part of.”
The prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side by side in the same location.
The multi-agency task force model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations.
Fourteen agencies were involved in this case.