More than 100 Pounds of Meth Seized in Operation “Pantera Negra”

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Fourteen suspects have been apprehended and two remain at large after a two-year investigation into methamphetamine and money laundering in Northwest Arkansas.

U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge and William J. Bryant of the Drug Enforcement Administration held a news conference Monday at the Springdale Police Department to discuss charges and arrests resulting from the recent drug investigation called Operation "La Pantera Negra," or Black Panther.

Bryant said 118 pounds of meth worth "millions of millions of dollars" was seized. He said a bag of the smokable meth "ice" about the size of a sweetener packet has a street value of $100.

"A pound of meth on the street wholesale value is $18,000 to $24,000 a pound," Bryant said. "When it's typically distributed on the street, it's in the gram quality, so there's 455 grams in pound. That really works out to $45,000 a pound."

Investigators said most of the drugs were smuggled in from Mexico.

The unsealed federal indictment charges 16 defendants with 19 counts of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and money laundering, Eldridge said.

He said the investigation has been going on for a little more than two years. There have been 31 defendants, including the 16 listed in the unsealed indictment, who have been prosecuted in the case.

According to court documents, the defendants are:
Celen Zendejas, Jose Mejia−Machado, Ana Vaca−Gomez, Omar Frias, Marlene Martinez, Dianna Gandert, Tamera Rivera, Porfirio Castro−Ruiz, Jeffery Ruano, Gregorio Carranza, Donna Daosavanh, Jose Herrera, Eberardo Coria−Hernandez, Wilber Alvarenga, Rodolfo Carrillo, Samuel Baeza.

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