Kent man one of 12 charged with meth, heroin distribution ring

The U.S. Attorney's Office on Tuesday charged 12 people, including a 34-year-old Kent man, in connection with a meth and heroin distribution ring based in Pierce County.

Juan Hernandez, of Kent, was one of 13 people arrested by law enforcement officials who seized 50 pounds of crystal meth, $160,000 of cash and seven guns in the culmination of a lengthy investigation, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office media release. The others charged in the case were from Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup and Oakland, Calif.

The Drug Enforcement Administration led the wire-tap investigation which identified the members of a criminal conspiracy distributing significant quantities of meth and heroin throughout Western Washington. The investigation uncovered a conversion lab in Spanaway, where liquid meth was processed into highly addictive crystal methamphetamine.

Twelve of the people arrested appeared in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, charged with a variety of drug trafficking offenses.

“This criminal group built a business in moving two drugs, meth and heroin, that destroy lives and families and tear apart communities,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “Through the course of this case, law enforcement took more than 66 pounds of crystal meth off the streets and more than two and a half pounds of heroin. Federal and local partners working together have dismantled a major pipeline for drugs.”

“Methamphetamine and heroin are a significant threat to the Pacific Northwest,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes. “This organization was not only distributing heroin and methamphetamine, but was also converting the methamphetamine into a highly addictive form of crystal methamphetamine. I commend the dedication and hard work of all the law enforcement agencies that brought these drug traffickers to justice.”

When 17 search warrants were served on Sunday and Monday, law enforcement seized 50 pounds of crystal meth and two gallons of liquid meth that was in the process of being converted to crystal meth.

The conversion of liquid meth to crystal meth is a potentially dangerous process involving highly flammable chemicals such as acetone. Over the year-long course of the investigation law enforcement seized 66 pounds of crystal meth, 2.5 pounds of heroin, a total of $310,000, 25 vehicles (some with hidden compartments for drugs and cash), and seven firearms (three of them stolen).

Due to the large amounts of drugs involved and the presence of firearms, defendants could face mandatory minimums of 10 years in prison to life in prison if convicted.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. DEA Tacoma led the investigation in conjunction with Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team, Lakewood Police Department, West Sound Narcotics Team and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.

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