[KHTS] – It started with a phone call, some hubris and talk of an “alien who is dressed all in green.”
A series of “overt acts” and brazen talk over recorded phone lines in the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic resulted in an investigation and a 10-suspect complaint alleging a conspiracy to smuggle drugs, according to court documents obtained by KHTS AM-1220 on Monday.
Rene Carmona, 35, allegedly bragged about “how easy it was to smuggle contraband into a custody facility” during a Sept. 8 phone call from Pitchess to Leticia “Topo” Herrera, 41.
Carmona asked Herrera to use the “alien,” believed to be code for a jail employee, and Herrera said she understood, according to the criminal complaint.
This was the first of 32 “overt acts” — which a prosecutor must prove occurred in order to convict a defendant in a criminal conspiracy.
The inmates allegedly worked together with outsiders, friends and family alike to bring drugs into Pitchess.
One of the problems with their plan though, was that they used recorded lines to do so.
The defendants listed on the indictment are: Carmona and Herrera; Juan Ortiz, 54; Rene Carmona, 41; Damaris “Gorgeous” Obeso, 21; Javier “Turtle” Velez, 30; Eddie Enriquez, 40; Alex Martinez, 34; Jack “Soldier” Torres, 45; Pricilian “Precious” Simental, 32; and Richard Huizar, 39.
All are facing the possibility of jail time, or in several of the defendants’ cases, more jail time, if convicted of the allegations.
The crimes were uncovered by deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Unit.
The alleged delivery of the drugs to jail
After that phone call between Herrera and Carmona, the following day, Velez called Obeso with the news that Enriquez put $150 into a Green Dot account.
Velez was waiting for Obeso to pick up the drugs, make the delivery and word that she’d paid for it, which Obeso agreed to do, according to the complaint.
Velez allegedly told Obeso how to package the narcotics, and how a meeting with Ortiz, who worked at the jail and was called the “Burrito Man,” would go down.
The defendants allegedly used everything from the elaborate — Obeso is accused of putting “Christine,” or methamphetamine, in a medicine bottle and then resealing it, to less inventive vessels — a burrito, which is why Ortiz became known as “Burrito Man” in the complaint.
On Sept. 10, another defendant, Martinez, called his wife, Maria Avina, allegedly to discuss the schedule of a jail employee.
Days later, Carmona is recorded commending Herrera on the great job he did “running” drugs in the jail back in 2010-11.
Carmona told Herrera he needed her help because “the yard” was “dry,” and Carmona knew how to get narcotics into the jail, according to court documents.
All telecommunications by the inmates are recorded, according to a Sheriff’s Department official.
The next delivery was supposed to come Sept. 13, Carmona said.
The next call involved Herrera confirming that she would pick up $40 worth of (narcotics) for the protein bottle. She would also add a little bit more “Christina,” per Carmona’s request.
The drugs were then put inside a protein powder container that was purchased at Wal-Mart.
By using relatives and wives, the convicts allegedly were able to coordinate drug deliveries.
Code for narcotics
Velez told Obeso that Ortiz was a “paisito,” or Mexican countryman, who didn’t speak English. Ortiz worked in the jail’s laundry unit before he resigned in light of the charges.
Avina gave Ortiz’ number to Obeso, and told Velez that Ortiz demanded smaller burritos.
The inmates and their outside help implemented a code that changed frequently.
“A little Cinco,” “pictures,” “chocolate stuff” and “vitamins” are a few of the ever-changing epithets used by the alleged smugglers.
They used different colored packaging within the burritos to determine which packages were for which inmate.
The orders included tar heroin and methamphetamine, which were allegedly exchanged in a the parking lot of an electronics store in Los Angeles.
On Oct. 1, a plastic grocery bag was found in Ortiz’s vehicle, and inside the bag there was two burritos and a plastic container of Protein Powder that had been opened and resealed, according to court documents.
The inmates’ charges and Sheriff’s response
The court complaints reference a series of felony convictions for all of the defendants, except Ortiz and Obeso, which go back several decades.
All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty at their initial arraignment.
Carmona, has a record that includes “strikes,” or convictions for violent crimes, which go back the year 2000, when Carmona was 22.
Enriquez was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon back in 1980, when he was 17.
Velez picked up his first conviction for grand theft auto when he was 23, and methamphetamine possession when he was 26.
Torres has a list of convictions that date back to 1989, when he was convicted of burglary.
Martinez has a pair of convictions for methamphetamine possession.
Huizar’s record lists numerous drug offenses that date back to age 11, according to court records.
Herrera has a conviction for identity theft in 2008. Simental was convicted of child neglect in 2004.
The case against the defendants is now in the “preliminary stages,” according to Deputy District Attorney Mario Haidar, who’s prosecuting the case.
“They’ve all been arraigned and we’re waiting to do a preliminary hearing,” Haidar said. “That would likely be some time in January.”
No one has pleaded guilty or no contest at this time, and there has been not been a discussion of plea deal “at this time,” Heidar said.
In response to the investigation, Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore said the jail evaluates any incident like this “from top to bottom to see how we can beef up our security.”
“Everything is always re-examined when you have something like this happen,” Whitmore said.
“The important thing to remember is that we were the ones who investigated this and we were the ones who caught it — so, in this case, the system worked,” Whitmore said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to do better and we are.”
Whitmore declined to cite the specifics of what changes were made in response to the investigation, citing security concerns, and the desire to keep the changes away from those trying to beat the system.
“This investigation is by no means over,” Whitmore said. “(The investigation) will continue on, and we will continue to connect the dots after we make the arrests.”