Operation "Smoke Jumpers": there are 17 individuals detained in the United States who were operating a network smuggling fentanyl and other drugs from Mexico


The U.S. Department of Justice, through the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, revealed that charges have been filed against 17 individuals for smuggling drugs hidden in fire extinguishers entering the United States through the border with Mexico.

A hearing was recently scheduled to formalize the indictment of the latest individual arrested under a federal grand jury's determination, which charged the existence of a plan to smuggle various drugs, such as fentanyl, methamphetamines, and heroin, from Mexico to the United States.

The alleged drug trafficking organization used trucks to import fire extinguishers filled with drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the U.S. government.

The operation, named "Smoke Jumpers," lasted two years, resulting in 13 seizures that yielded 680,992 pills of alleged fentanyl, three kilograms of alleged powdered fentanyl, 17 kilograms of heroin, and 10,418 pills containing alleged methamphetamines.

Nine individuals facing various charges were arrested during police operations that started on February 8 and continued until February 12. One defendant was already in custody under state authorities, but seven other accused individuals are fugitives believed to be in Mexico.

"These defendants used a sophisticated network for smuggling large quantities of fentanyl into our country," said federal prosecutor Martín Estrada. He added, "We know that every fentanyl pill can be lethal, but these defendants did not care about the widespread destruction they were causing. Our institution will continue to work smartly and energetically to bring international drug trafficking organizations to justice."

Ehsaei, the Acting Deputy Director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office, revealed the challenges they face. "Law enforcement authorities continue to rise to the challenges posed by drug trafficking organizations, whose members always find new ways to hide the poisonous substances they import from Mexico into cities and towns in the United States," said Amir Ehsaei.

The Acting Deputy Director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office disclosed that a reward is being offered to locate the fugitives. "The FBI and our partners on the Special Team are seeking seven fugitives in connection with this case and ask anyone with information about their whereabouts to contact the FBI."

The formal indictment consists of 15 charges and was published on February 8. It accuses several individuals of drug trafficking and conspiracy to launder money.

The nine individuals arrested are: Oscar Ahumada Leyva, 43, from Mexico; Miguel Antonio Rabago Valenzuela, 42, from Mexico; Gustavo Rivero Rodríguez, 39, from Mexico; Carlos Espinoza, 38, from Alhambra; Erick Roque Ángeles, 39, from Fontana; David Sánchez Balderas, 26, from Denver; Fernando Salgado, 36, from Riverside; Rocío Guadalupe Acevedo Tonche, 32, from Ontario; Efren Quibrera Espinoza, 29, from Cudahy.

Six of the accused were taken into custody in the Los Angeles and Inland Empire regions. Five of them have been formally charged, pleaded not guilty, and their trial is scheduled for April 2.

Erick Roque Ángeles is expected to be formally charged in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles. The tenth accused is Toniel Báez Duarte, 33 years old, from Apple Valley, who was already in custody of state authorities.

An order authorizing the examination of one of the phones seized when Carlos Espinoza was arrested last week specifies that the investigation focused on "Carin Trucking," an organization owned by Leyva and based in San Diego. It operated at least six trucks that regularly entered the United States from Mexico to deliver alleged narcotics in Los Angeles.

The alleged drugs included counterfeit pills containing fentanyl found in extinguishers disguised as scrap metal and later in extinguishers simulating legitimacy, according to the search warrant filed on February 12.

"Investigators have observed multiple drug transactions involving truck drivers and their tractor-trailers," states an affidavit supporting the search warrant. "The truck driver would drive to the United States from Mexico, crossing the border, usually carrying a load of scrap metal, but hidden among the scrap was a fire extinguisher containing drugs. The truck driver would then head to Los Angeles to meet with a courier, who would pick up the drug-laden fire extinguishers for distribution," the U.S. government stated.

The indictment alleges two counts of conspiracy related to narcotics and 12 drug possession charges. Each carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in a federal prison and a possible life sentence.

Count 15 is based on the existence of a possible conspiracy for money laundering, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The "Smoke Jumpers" operation was led by the FBI's special team in Los Angeles, part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF). It establishes permanent interagency task forces working closely together.

This model allows agents from different agencies to collaborate on operations spanning multiple jurisdictions based on intelligence data to intercept and dismantle drug traffickers—responsible for crimes such as money laundering—gang leaders, and transnational criminal organizations involved in these illicit activities.