Lawyer: Illegal search warrants used in drug bust

By Cristina Silva

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 15 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Containers of different forms of methamphetamine are displayed at a news conference announcing the state's largest meth bust in history, Thursday, July 14, 2011, in Las Vegas. Law enforcement agencies from Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City seized 200 pounds of the drug earlier in the week.

Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — An attorney representing one of the illegal immigrants arrested Wednesday in a record-setting Las Vegas drug bust said the state's case may rest on evidence obtained through illegal search warrants.

Las Vegas lawyer Libo Agwara told The Associated Press Friday that he will challenge a flurry of search warrants quickly obtained by police this week to seize 212 pounds of drugs with an estimated street value of $5.7 million, the largest methamphetamine bust in Nevada history.

"This case is not as airtight as they think it is," said Agwara, who represents Felix Roman, 27, of Las Vegas.

Law enforcement officials told reporters this week that the bust was a game-changing sweep that would touch all corners of Las Vegas' illegal underworld, including drug bosses, small-time dealers and individual users. Officials seized four pounds (1.8 kilograms) of heroin and 208 pounds (94 kilograms) of methamphetamine in varying stages of processing, from its liquid form to the crystal-like pieces sold on the street. Police also seized $280,000 in cash, six guns and nine vehicles used for drug trafficking after searching at least five residential properties in Las Vegas and Henderson on Tuesday. In the previous record bust, Las Vegas officials seized 70 pounds (31 kilograms) of methamphetamine.

Roman and at least eight others were arrested in the raid. Most of the suspects were illegal immigrants from Mexico, including Roman; Jorge Loza, 26; Armando Lara, 37; Sergio Vieyra-Medrano, 37; Moreliano Zaragoza-Ramos, 26; Salvador Garibo, 27; Cecilia Salgado, 55; and Alejandro Gomez, 31. Mayra Torres, 28, of California was also arrested. Police officials said they expected to arrest at least two others tied to the drug operation this week. All but Torres and Salgado were being held Friday morning on an average bail amount of $13,000. The women had been released after posting bail.

A Las Vegas judge increased the bail amount to at least $100,000 per suspect during a hearing Friday after the state asked that the bail be increased to at least $1 million per suspect and $10 million for Zaragoza-Ramos, the alleged leader of the drug ring who also goes by the name Oscar Cavadas.

"Standard bail is just not appropriate in this case," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Tina Sedlock. "This is not a standard case."

Sedlock said many of the suspects, particularly Zaragoza-Ramos, clearly have access to drug money and had no incentive to return to court if they posted bail because they are illegal immigrants. She also requested that any bail posted be verified by the court because the money could be tied to illegal activity.

"The evidence against these defendants is overwhelming, your honor," Sedlock said. "We are never going to see these defendants again once they post bail."

Salgado, who did go to court Friday after posting bail, told the AP she should not have been arrested.

"No, I'm not guilty," she said in Spanish outside the courtroom Friday. "I worked a lot in this country to be involved in something like this."

She declined further comment after a court translator advised her not to speak to reporters.

The suspects are scheduled to return to court July 28 for a preliminary hearing.

A slate of lawyers representing the suspects asked that prosecutors release the search warrants obtained by police, as well as transcripts and other records associated with the wiretaps police likely used to follow the suspects during the course of the seven-month investigation.

It is likely that the defense attorneys, who are working independently for individual clients, will pit the suspects against one another and challenge the validity of the search warrants.

"There always are concerns because the cops always make mistakes" Agwara told the AP after the hearing. "A lot of times there are false statements. They deceive the court."

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