9 Investigates: Major investigation unveils multiple criminals with cartel ties in local area

CHARLOTTE — More than a dozen criminals with direct ties to Mexican cartels were living right here in the Charlotte region.

Federal agents say from state highways to neighborhood streets, dangerous cartel members could be traveling next to you, bringing drugs through our city on their way to the northeast while often dealing and stashing drugs right here.

“They’re here; there’s no doubt about it,” Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Robert Murphy told Channel 9 crime reporter Hunter Sáenz.

In December, 14 men and women were sentenced to federal prison. U.S. Attorney Dena King says they were all directly connected to the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.

King says the investigation heavily focused on two people: Salvador Barrera, the ring leader, and Ricardo Gomez, his second-in-command.

“Those two individuals were the individuals that were in charge of this drug trafficking organization that had ties, not just to California, but had direct ties to the cartel in Mexico,” King said.

In February 2020, King told Sáenz that two couriers were bringing more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to Charlotte from California when they were busted after being pulled over by state troopers in Kansas.

That arrest kicked off a two-year investigation involving the DEA and multiple local agencies from Charlotte to Stanly, Cabarrus, Catawba, and Lincoln counties.

According to the DEA, agents found drugs in stash houses across the Charlotte area; some were hidden inside the wall behind a bathroom mirror.

After more than a dozen search warrants, authorities seized more than 300 kilos of cocaine, 26 kilos of fentanyl and heroin, and nearly 60 firearms.

Federal agents say those guns proved that nothing and no one was going to stop these traffickers.

“They do not fear us; they would rather take the chances with us than deal with the consequences of the cartel,” Murphy said.

The cartel and dealers stood a chance to make more than $2 million off the drugs in Charlotte and the northeast.

Although there is danger, King and members of the DEA say the investigations and prosecutions are worth it, knowing the murders, violence, and overdoses that come with the cartels’ operation.

“I mean, it’s scary. It’s easy for us to think that these types of things happen someplace else. It’s a harder concept to think about; these things happen in our communities,” King said.

Local federal prosecutors have many other cases involving cartel members but could not comment on them.

Some of the 14 felons convicted of having direct ties to the cartel were sentenced to upwards of 20 years behind bars.

(WATCH BELOW: Drug trafficking conspiracy caught)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

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