DENVER (CBS4) – Authorities announced the bust of a major heroin ring that was operating in the Denver area. On Tuesday, they revealed how they zeroed in on the street drug dealers.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Drug Enforcement Administration, Denver Police Department and West Metro Drug Task Force were involved in the bust called “Operation Muchas Pacas.” The bust was the culmination of a major operation involving heroin and international connections.
“The investigation began in August 2015 after multiple confidential sources identified “Pacas” as a heroin source of supply in metro Denver. Pacas has been identified in an earlier Denver strike force heroin investigation,” said Coffman.
Authorities zeroed in on the primary suspect, Jose DeJesus Bernal-Zamora, nicknamed Pacas, during a 12-month long wire-tapping investigation. During the investigation, agents learned that a paca is a large rodent in the 15- to 20-pound range found in Central and South America.
Coffman said several other top-tier targets in the heroin ring were identified that included a man who would take orders in Garden City, Kansas, and then dispatch couriers to parts of Colorado with the heroin.
“They would then sell the heroin, not just in Denver, but up to Fort Collins and the Boulder area as well,” said Coffman.
There are more than a dozen suspects identified in the indictment from the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
The announcement was made Tuesday morning from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office where authorities displayed some of the items seized in the bust, including packets of heroin and several guns.
“The group used several sources for heroin, all were based in the Republic of Mexico. These sources were sent packages of Mexican brown powder heroin that was concealed in vehicles, sometimes in hidden compartments, or in the vehicle’s spare tire,” said Coffman.
One picture showed a package of heroin weighing six pounds, hidden inside a spare tire of a Subaru, that was confiscated on May 18.
“Some of the heroin was also moved in round, disk packages. That’s tightly-packed heroin, those are relatively heavy disks,” said Coffman. “Early on some of the heroin was actually mailed in packages using FedEx.”
Several weapons were also confiscated as part of the drug ring bust.
“The group was hyper-vigilant about law enforcement. They were not new players and they learned from past mistakes,” Coffman said.
George Brauchler, the district attorney for Douglas County, will be prosecuting those arrested. He issued a warning to others.
“If you are contemplating living in Douglas County and selling drugs we are going to find you,” he said.
The Cherry Creek Bike Path is considered ground zero for heroin use in downtown Denver. Used syringes scatter the landscape.
The bike path has held an uneasy relationship between bicyclists, joggers and those strung out on heroin.
“Heroin is extremely dangerous because it is so addictive and it is very hard to get people off of it once they start using it,” said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
In the past CBS4 has documented how sometimes the homeless work on corners hand-in-hand with the heroin dealers. But even with all the news stories and police actions, it’s a problem that’s difficult for the city and those on heroin.
“We are really getting crushed in our region with heroin abuse and use,” said Barbra Roche, Special Agent in Charge of the Denver DEA office.
The Denver Coroner’s Office says at least four people have died from overdoses involving heroin so far this year.
According to a source, the big heroin takedown ranged from street dealers to higher level distributors.
“This is an organized crime group that is international, that are coming into our community to take advantage of young people who are addicted to heroin,” said Morrissey. “This is organized crime in our state that is multi-state and international. The prosecution of these types of individuals is what we are all committed to. Getting people treatment, getting people help, that’s one thing. Getting the people who make money off of these people’s misery and their addiction, is an entirely different question. That’s what this indictment and these indictments are about. Going after the guys that prey on the people that live in our community. That’s what this is about.”