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Documents reveal drug ring's inner workings

FARGO - The drug ring that sent four people last year to kill Lee Avila in his East Grand Forks mobile home had a network of guns, drugs, money and cars reaching from Mexico up the West Coast to Washington, across the West to Nebraska and North D...

FARGO - The drug ring that sent four people last year to kill Lee Avila in his East Grand Forks mobile home had a network of guns, drugs, money and cars reaching from Mexico up the West Coast to Washington, across the West to Nebraska and North Dakota and Minnesota and leading to Florida and other parts still unnamed.

It's all coming undone, with about 44 people indicted - 22 announced just Monday in federal court here - and nearly all of them jailed or awaiting trial.

Another alleged member of the drug conspiracy, already indicted in federal court here, was arrested Monday night in Florida, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Shasky said.

That leaves one still on the run - one who is charged with being in Avila's home, part of the squad that killed him, Shasky said.

Like many details about this case, the names of all Avila's killers, as well as the person arrested Monday night, aren't being revealed because the investigation and hunt still is on, Shasky said.


U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said this week that things were happening quickly in recent days, with arrests in several states, and he expects the remaining fugitive to be arrested soon in what has been dubbed "Operation Speed Racer."

Four year ride

Over about four years, from January 2002 to early this year, the drug conspiracy sent 30 pounds of meth, dozens of pounds of pot, plus lots of cocaine from Mexico, the state of Washington, California and elsewhere into North Dakota and Minnesota, prosecutors allege.

Using cell phones, money wires and multiple bank accounts in various states, the group laundered the money to disguise its illegal origin.

The main kingpin was Jorge Arandas, known as Sneaky, who appeared Monday in court, pleading not guilty to drug conspiracy. But he also will face murder charges that could carry the death penalty because he ordered his underling, Michael Petzold, to carry out Avila's murder. Arandas also faces charges for shooting a man, who survived, near Yakima, Wash., last year.

Arandas was arrested last spring in California.

Guilty pleaAlso Monday, Petzold pleaded guilty to Avila's murder and other charges related to the drug conspiracy, in exchange for escaping a possible death penalty. Petzold organized three other people, buying them clothes and other materials, and obtained the gun used to kill Avila, and on June 30, 2005, took the three to East Grand Forks. The three entered Avila's home, and one of them shot Avila nine times, mostly in the back.

Wrigley had been considering seeking the death penalty on Petzold until the plea bargain was struck, which also involves Petzold telling investigators whatever they want to know. Others involved in Avila's killing still could face the death penalty, Wrigley said.


The Arandas network was a big part of the area's drug trade. In December 2003, for example, Arandas directed the distribution of 5 pounds of meth in Wahpeton, N.D., according to court documents. In May 2004 he oversaw the distribution of 3 pounds of meth and 93 pounds of marijuana in Sanborn, N.D., a tiny town on Interstate 94 between Valley City and Jamestown, N.D., where some ring members had a home.

In August 2004, Arandas is charged with distributing 978 grams of coke and 20 pounds of marijuana in Minnesota and elsewhere.

The drug ring members "engaged in the process of 'changing bills,' exchanging smaller denominations of U.S. currency for larger denominations in order to facilitate the transportation of currency to Washington state," prosecutors allege in court documents.

They also used a variety of Western Union offices, banks and people to transfer drug money around to conceal its illegal origin.

On March 14, 2003, for example, a deposit of $8,500 was made to a US Bank account in North Dakota by an underling of Arandas. The same day, the same amount was withdrawn from the same US Bank account using a bank in the state of Washington.

There was an international flavor to the group. On June 5, 2005, $2,000 was wired via Western Union from Moorhead to Rosarito, Mexico; 10 days later, $1,000 was wired from Moorhead to Rosarito. Mexico was a source of some of the drug production, Shasky said.

Guns and cars

Drug ring members also exchanged guns and vehicles for drugs.


One car was singled out by prosecutors in the indictments of Arandas.

In July 2003, Arandas and Demetrio Alvarado used drug money to buy a 2002 black Lincoln LS sedan for $8,000, prosecutors allege in court documents. In the next few months, they spent $17,000 on repairs to the $8,000 vehicle. They used the vehicle to hold or conceal drugs to facilitate the drug trafficking conspiracy. Arandas also used the car when he shot a person identified only as "O.A." in court documents, on March 28, 2004, in the Yakima area, as part of the drug ring's activities. Shasky said the car was passed around the drug ring and made trips between the state of Washington and the Red River Valley carrying drugs.

Petzold used two residences in Fargo and one in Wahpeton to store and take and make deliveries of drugs, prosecutors allege.

His plea agreement and ongoing cooperation with the investigation is expected to make the case against many of the drug ring members. The same pressure the death penalty obviously had on Petzold could be applied to others alleged to have been involved in Avila's murder.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or slee@gfherald.com .

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