Saturday, November 14, 1998
West Texas drug busts net 29 suspects
BIG SPRING (AP) -- A West Texas cocaine trafficking investigation
has led to 29 arrests Friday in Big Spring, Midland and San Angelo,
including the apprehension of one of the region's most notorious
-- and elder -- drug cartel patriarchs, authorities said.
Santos Arzola Mendoza, 71, and several members of his family
were arrested as part of a two-year investigation called "Operation
Purple Cow." More than 200 local, state and federal agents
participated in the arrests, which followed months of undercover
drug purchases by police.
Big Spring Police Chief Lonnie Smith said Mendoza has been
the center of the drug cartel, which transported cocaine throughout
the region, for more than 20 years.
"I've been on the department for 21 years," Smith
said. "I've known some of their family. To say that organization
has been here since the late 60's may be an understatement. I
think some of them may go back into the 50s."
Those arrested in addition to the senior Mendoza were family
members Jacob Marin, 27; Juana Arsiaga Mendoza, 68; Phillip Mendoza
Jr., 30; Robert Mendoza, 40; and Roberto Mendoza Sr., 40, all
of Big Spring; as well as Marcus Chavarria, 20, of Midland; Spencer
Coker, 27, of Sand Springs; Ralph Rodriguez, 34, of San Angelo;
and Big Spring residents Larcarnly Cross, 55; Michael Deleon,
33; John Jay Flores, 27; Ruben Gamboa, 42; Karen Harrison, 40;
Anthony Ray Hayes, 33; Gene Hernandez, 18; Arthur Jackson, 21;
Leslie Kimble, 38; Pamela Palmer, 30; Johnny Rangel, 32; Edward
Lee Roach, 27; Michael Vanderbilt, 24; and Wesley Todd Watson,
The multi-agency drug sweep included officers from the FBI,
DEA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, plus state,
county and local law officers, the Big Spring Herald reported
The charges against those arrested include establishment of
illegal distribution operations, drug possession with intent to
distribute, felony possession of firearms, and distribution of
cocaine within 1,000 feet of public elementary schools.
Because many of the individuals had been previously arrested,
officials said they planned to ask a U.S. magistrate to order
them held without bond.
The FBI contributed 75 agents to participate in the arrests.
"We had the opportunity to reach in and take a drug organization
by the throat and essentially take them out today," said
Ed Lueckenhoff, assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI's
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Baker said shutting down the cartel
became a multi-agency task after Texas Department of Public Safety
officials discovered that FBI and ATF had already begun numerous
investigations of the Mendoza family.
"When DPS realized the scope and magnitude of Mendoza's
operation, they consulted with other law enforcement agencies
in the area and discovered that each agency possessed intelligence
information regarding the organization," Baker said.
"Joining forces is sometimes the best way to handle a
situation like this."
Baker said Mendoza's operation was "roughly akin to an
all-day drug store."
The Friday drug sweep came on the heals of the first arrest
by officers of the West Texas Narcotics Task Force last week.
Howard County recently affiliated with the new task force after
the former task force was disbanded.
Officers arrested Emiel Jozef Vandersmissen, 40, for allegedly
selling cocaine to an undercover police officer, District Attorney
Hardy Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said a search warrant was executed at Vandersmissen's
home and turned up for cocaine. He said the man will be looking
at a stiff sentence because he was "caught trying to sell
the drugs within the 1,000-foot drug free zone around Goliad Middle
The prosecutor said Vandersmissen had been employed by the
Big Spring State Hospital for more than 10 years.
(Correspondent China Long and Regional Editor Roy A. Jones
II contributed to this story.)
Send a Letter to the Editor about This
Story | Start or Join A Discussion about This Story
Send the URL (Address)
of This Story to A Friend:
Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications