A major multi-million-dollar Mexican pipeline that furnished cocaine and marijuana to hundreds, if not thousands, of users in the Midlands has been dealt a blow by the DEA.
More than 8,000 pounds of marijuana “and an unknown quantity of cocaine” valued at more than $7 million have been trucked into the Midlands by the alleged conspiracy in the past year, according to a DEA complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia.
Six people now face federal drug charges in the case, and some will be arraigned in federal court in Columbia this morning before U.S. Magistrate Joseph McCrorey. They are charged with conspiring to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, according to federal documents.
Approximately 3,000 pounds of marijuana was seized during and after their arrests, according to the complaint.
The six were arrested after an intensive surveillance and stake-out operation using the latest in hidden cameras and eavesdropping equipment in and around a warehouse on McLeod Road in Columbia. In addition, the DEA also intercepted conversations after bugging a room in a warehouse at 175 Foster Brothers Drive in West Columbia.
The drug pipeline began in Mexico and continued into McAllen, Texas, the complaint said. In Texas, commercial truck drivers were hired to bring the drugs to South Carolina, and the drugs were distributed locally and in North Carolina, the complaint said.
The lead figure and alleged “major drug trafficker” in the conspiracy, according to the complaint, is a Mexican national named Guadalberto Morales-Salazar, who “typically sells one pound of marijuana for between $800 and $900,” the complaint said.
Until his arrest over the weekend, Morales-Salazar was wanted on state charges of drug trafficking. Last January, he was arrested at his Leeside Circle home in Columbia, then fled to Mexico while free on bond. At the time of his arrest, SLED agents seized $1.1 million in cash.
Besides Morales-Salazar, others facing charges in the pipeline case are Heriberto Solorio, Lucila Martinez-Vivanco, Faustino Soriano-Flores, and Gary Dean Farabee and Hector Solorio.
The arrests are not expected to end the flow of Mexican drugs into the Midlands. Law officers say multiple pipelines exist, and the profits to be made from the thousands of Midlands residents who use drugs illegally fuel the subterranean but booming business.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said that “regardless of their nationality,” defendants are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
“Drug trafficking is a charge this office takes very seriously,” Nettles said.