Four-year DEA investigation results in indictment of Valley, S.D. residents

September 01, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Two Imperial Valley men and a man from San Diego are facing federal charges, including allegations the three were involved in importing illegal narcotics, following a four-year investigation.

The three have been indicted by a federal grand jury and a motion hearing in their cases has been set for Sept. 10 in San Diego.

The suspects were arrested Aug. 15 as part of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs Service internal affairs.

According to the federal indictment, the three men are Sal Carrillo, who was taken into custody at Robinson Ford in Calexico where he is reportedly employed; Ernest Michael Zabala, a former Customs inspector arrested in Brawley; and Richard Hart Jr., who resides in San Diego.


The three, all in custody in San Diego, have been indicted on a count of conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana and a count to import both drugs into the United States.

According to the indictment, the suspects allegedly "did knowingly and intentionally conspire together and with each other and with other persons known and unknown to the grand jury to distribute 5 kilograms and more of cocaine, a schedule II controlled substance, and 100 kilograms and more of marijuana …"

Carrillo also is facing a count of money laundering, according to the indictment and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Coughlin, who has been assigned to prosecute all three men.

Zabala is facing a count related to bribery while he was working as a U.S. Customs inspector. Zabala was no longer employed by Customs when he was arrested this month.

The indictment alleges that Zabala, "being a public official, that is, a U.S. Customs Service inspector, did corruptly demand, seek, receive, accept or agree to receive or accept anything of value, including but not limited to, funds in U.S. currency, in return for being induced to do or omit to do any act in violation of his official duty."

The indictment states that the crimes were committed from August 1996 to Sept. 30, 1997.

While few other details were available on the case, a DEA official said there could be a connection to the Arellano Felix organization, Mexico's most notorious drug-trafficking organization.

The Arellano Felix group is considered the umbrella organization for much of the drug-trafficking activity through Mexicali, according to Customs officials.

Coughlin on Friday declined to discuss whether there is a connection in the Carrillo, Zabala and Hart case to the Arellano Felix group.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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