18 arrested in drug sting tied to horse racing
LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Calcasieu Parish authorities say 18 people arrested as part of a 1 1/2-year long investigation were funneling "lab quality" methamphetamine into the area.
The investigation, dubbed "Operation Havana Speed," involved several people with ties to horse racing. The operation's results were announced this week.
On Monday, officers began arresting suspects in Louisiana and Texas. Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon says 11 search warrants resulted in the seizure of "pounds" of crystal meth, several weapons and the discovery of three active meth labs.
Of the suspects arrested, most had some tie to horse racing — either as an owner, a jockey or a trainer. Dixon said.
"That seemed to be the central theme," he said.
Authorities would not say whether any of the suspects were employed by Delta Downs, but no officials at the racetrack were targets of the investigation, Sheriff Tony Mancuso said.
The sting led to the seizure of "assets from the horse-racing industry" as well as a large amount of steroids used on horses, Dixon said.
The information has been turned over to the Louisiana Racing Commission for further investigation.
Representatives from Lake Charles and Vinton police, the sheriff's office, state police, the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's Office and the Office of Homeland Security participated in the investigation. Other law enforcement agencies were also involved.
Dixon said the suspected leaders of the organization are Mario Barrazacorral, who is being held in Texas; Sergio Reyes Castillo; and Lazaro Perez Cribeiro.
Cribeiro and Castillo are being held in the Calcasieu Correctional Center.
The investigation involved numerous undercover buys, and many hours of surveillance, including aerial surveillance, Dixon said.
"The investigation determined lab-quality crystal meth was being transported from locations in Texas to the Vinton-Starks area of west Calcasieu Parish," he said.
The operation took a turn when one of the subjects of the investigation went missing in May. The body of Jose Guadaloupe Perez Campos, 34, was pulled from the Neches River in Texas a few days later.
"Once this happened, many of our targets ... kind of ceased operations and took off," Mancuso said. "It posed a problem for us because here we are in the midst of a big drug operation and now we have a possible homicide."
Mancuso said the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Campos, in the country illegally, were suspicious enough to treat the investigation as a homicide, but that many questions still remain.
He said that while official autopsy results from Jefferson County, Texas, have not been released, preliminary results indicate "the injuries he sustained, possibly in Louisiana, may not have been life-threatening" and he could have been alive when he entered the river.
Mancuso said Campos also had a large amount of drugs in his system, so authorities are trying to determine whether he entered the river on his own — possibly because he was high — or whether someone pushed him in.
There are several suspects, Mancuso said.
"We know foul play in some manner has taken place in Louisiana," he said. "Is it a homicide or is it an accidental death?"
Dixon said the bust was significant because of the rise of crystal meth in the area over the past years. He said it has possibly surpassed cocaine as the most prevalent drug in Southwest Louisiana.
"We did not just want to do the little local buys," Dixon said. "We wanted to find out where these drugs were coming from, and we wanted to smash the distribution rings."