SALT LAKE CITY — The man arrested in a massive methamphetamine bust Monday by the Drug Enforcement Administration told investigators he needed money for college and surgery for his mother.
A complaint for distribution of methamphetamine was filed in federal court Tuesday against Osiel Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia, 24, a U.S. citizen from California.
Sunday night, DEA agents found nearly 57 pounds of meth hidden in the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia was driving, making it one of the largest methamphetamine busts ever in Utah.
Frank Smith, head of the DEA office in Utah, called it Utah's most significant pre-planned meth bust, noting that all 57 pounds — which were between 97 percent and 100 percent in purity — were earmarked for the Beehive State. The drugs had an estimated street value of $4 million to $6 million.
The bust culminated a yearlong undercover investigation targeting mainly the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico.
DEA agents had scheduled an undercover drug buy Sunday night. West Valley police intercepted Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia's vehicle near 3500 South and Bangerter Highway about 10 p.m. before he reached the designated meeting with the undercover officers, and pulled him over for a traffic violation.
A drug-sniffing dog indicated there were drugs in the vehicle, which was then moved to the West Valley Police Department, according to the complaint. DEA agents were called and said they found 57 pounds of meth hidden in the rear quarter panels of the vehicle.
Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia told investigators that he was promised $500 per pound to transfer the meth from Orange County to Utah, court records state. He said he was transporting the drugs for a man named Juan in Mexico.
He told police he had only spoken to Juan by phone in Mexico. He said he talked to Juan on the phone several times to coordinate the shipment of meth, according to court records.
If convicted, Ruvalcaba-Azpeitia faces at a mandatory-minimum sentence of 10 years, bet he could get a life term. He also faces a $10 million fine.
Over the past year, the DEA said its operation has yielded 127 pounds of meth in addition to the seizure of heroin, nearly a dozen weapons and other assets.
Smith estimated 90 percent of all meth in Utah is produced in "super labs" in Mexico and shipped to the Beehive State.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company