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Drug enforcement officials believe they’ve captured men with possible Mexican drug cartel connections involved in a high-volume California-to-Delaware cocaine trafficking operation.
Adam Duvernay/The News Journal

Drug enforcement officials say they’ve captured men with Mexican drug cartel connections involved in a high-volume California-to-Delaware cocaine trafficking operation that involved secret entrances, hidden compartments and tunnels under a Bear home.

The men brought cocaine into Delaware sealed inside welded-closed oxygen tanks and then used those same tanks to carry back hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, according to the indictment, announced by Delaware’s acting U.S. Attorney David Weiss.

The Delaware resident who received the cocaine for distribution also had under one residence he owned a sophisticated tunnel concealed behind a false fireplace in which police say he was growing 100 marijuana plants.

The tunnel was 2,000 square feet with 20-foot ceilings containing a hydroponic grow lab, said Shawn Ellerman, acting special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Drug Enforcement Administration.

“That tunnel was something DEA usually deals with out in the southwest part of our country,” Ellerman said. “Members of this narcotics trafficking organization are associates of the Sinaloa cartel, a well-known, well-established trafficking organization in Mexico.”

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Police say Roque Valdez and Mohamad Aviles Camberos delivered kilograms of drugs to local properties owned by Omar Morales Colon, who gave them cash and then distributed the illicit substances to customers in Delaware and beyond. 

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Such deals have occurred at least four times since December at a hotel in Christiana, police said. On the first three trips, Valdez and Camberos delivered 20 kilograms of cocaine, authorities said. 

“Following the fourth trip, Camberos and Valdez met with Colon in the parking lot of that same Christiana, Delaware, hotel,” Weiss said. “All three defendants were arrested.”

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Drug enforcement authorities on Wednesday displayed photos of seized assets associated with a recent drug trafficking indictment. (Photo: Adam Duvernay/ The News Journal)

On May 6, authorities believe Valdez and Camberos gave Colon a sticky note on which was written “$393,400,” the amount authorities say Colon was to pay for the drugs.

Colon had come with $382,000, authorities said, and provided Valdez and Camberos with a garage door opener for a Marshall Street property intending for them to unload the cocaine there. 

Police in succeeding days seized two pickup trucks; about $10,500 found in Colon’s Bear residence; about $355,900 found in a Ford Explorer in Aston, Pennsylvania; and about $167,000 found in a storage unit. Authorities believe all these assets were used in the trafficking enterprise. 

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Weiss said authorities will seize real estate in Bear, Aston and Wilmington associated with the conspiracy.

Underneath Colon’s residence in Bear, he apparently had constructed a tunnel unlike anything regional drug enforcement agents are accustomed, according to Special Agent Patrick Trainor, public information officer for the Philadelphia DEA.

“I have certainly seen a lot of what we would refer to as ‘trapped-out’ cars. I’ve seen even false rooms and false walls, but certainly nothing to this extent,” Trainor said. 

Indoor growing operations aren’t uncommon, even those in which an entire home has been dedicated to establishing the kind of technologically advanced hydroponic setup discovered in Bear, Trainor said.

But 100 plants is hardly a major grow.

“It’s not a huge, huge amount,” Trainor said. “But, again, we have not seen it quite like this.” 

The connection to Mexican cartels is still under investigation, but Trainor said the Sinaloa cartel is largely responsible for trafficking heroin and cocaine on the East Coast.

“Cocaine and heroin, specifically, are not produced in our region,” Trainor said. “Marijuana is a drug that can be manufactured in our area under controlled settings. It’s safe to say when cocaine or heroin get seized on the streets in Wilmington, that it is coming off the quarter pound, coming off the half pound, coming off of the kilo that, yeah, most likely originated from a cartel member.” 

Contact Adam Duvernay at (302) 324-2785 or aduvernay@delawareonline.com.

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