Gang members worked with Mexican drug cartel to sell drugs in Salt Lake City, indictments allege

Investigators say they charged 32 associates of the Norteños gang with a drug trafficking operation.

After a nine-month investigation, 27 members and associates of the Norteños gang were indicted May 26 for roles in “a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, fentanyl, and heroin across the Wasatch Front,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Law enforcement officers say they seized over 42 pounds of methamphetamine, seven pounds of heroin, 5,000 fentanyl pills, 71 grams of fentanyl powder, 15 firearms, and more than $25,000 during the operation.

The U.S. attorney’s office says that the principal narcotics supplier for the Norteños gang was the Mexico-based Jalisco New Generation Cartel, one of the main distributors of drugs within the United States. Investigators estimate that the organization and its members are responsible for “more than 420 pounds of methamphetamine and 50 pounds of heroin being transported to, and distributed in, the Salt Lake Valley” during 2020 and 2021.

U.S. Marshal Matt Harris said in an email that the investigation was a success and will have an immediate impact on drug distribution in the state.

“However, the cartel will continue to find ways to infiltrate the Utah market,” Harris warned, “and will find other dealers willing to take the risk of going to federal prison with the reward of making money.”

According to the indictments, the defendants were involved in transporting drugs from Mexico into the United States and on to Salt Lake City, where they were distributed.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Unified Police Department’s Metro Gang Unit and the United States Marshals Service worked together on the operation.

“Anytime you can combine the efforts of federal and state resources the public is best served,” Harris said. “The best way to continue to fight violent crime is do it collectively, in a task force environment, utilizing the skill set of local investigators with the resources of the federal agencies.”

The 27 suspects were charged with 34 federal counts: continuing criminal enterprise; conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl; conspiracy to launder money; distribution of fentanyl and methamphetamine; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime; being a felon in possession of a firearm; possession of methamphetamine, fentanyl and heroin with intent to distribute; and being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm.

Five others related to the operation were indicted before the 27 defendants, with four charged with being a felon possessing a firearm and one charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

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