Pasco man moved huge amounts of money, drugs for a Mexican cartel. Relatives await sentencing

How cartel drugs are smuggled at the border

At border towns, cartel drug smugglers are only limited by their imagination, often hiding drugs in secret compartments within vehicles.
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At border towns, cartel drug smugglers are only limited by their imagination, often hiding drugs in secret compartments within vehicles.

A 24-year-old Pasco man tied to a large-scale transnational drug trafficking operation along with four extended family members is going to prison for 18 years.

Braulio Jimenez was involved in moving bulk amounts of drugs and cash proceeds for a Mexican-based criminal enterprise in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

When agents searched his Coachella Court home in February 2018, they found more than 19,000 Fentanyl-laced pills, 40 pounds of heroin, 4 pounds of methamphetamine and 23 pounds of cocaine, in addition to $170,000 in Unites States cash and a cache of firearms.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation agents also discovered ledgers recording drug sales exceeding $6 million.

Jimenez, his wife, his older brother and his wife’s sister and brother-in-law all were indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in the widespread operation.

All of them have entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court, but Jimenez is the first to be sentenced.

Senior Judge Ed Shea, in ordering Jimenez to prison, noted the stunning amount of narcotics and drug cash proceeds involved in the case and the damage this particular drug-trafficking organization has done to the community, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

It all started with the FBI’s Cross Border Violence Task Force investigation of a money laundering operation that was based in Mexico and stretched across the United States.

A tipster started providing information in September 2015 and, over the next 1 1/2 years, two undercover agents were able to get in with the criminal enterprise by posing as employees.

The agents helped to complete “several successful controlled pickups, reverse money laundering pickups, and/or seizures of U.S. currency in Kansas City, Cincinnati, New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, the Boston area and now Eastern Washington,” according to court documents. “These controlled operations involved interceptions totaling more than $7 million, and/or seizures totaling $7 million.”

Documents show that undercover agents were sent to Pasco to pick up cash drug proceeds, first from Reynaldo Perez Munoz and later Jimenez.

Munoz’s wife, Anna Munoz, is the sister of Jimenez’s wife, Marisela Mendoza.

The pick-up amounts would range from $250,000 to more than $630,000. The bundled cash would be wrapped in multiple layers of plastic wrap with a greasy substance, like motor oil or grease, in between the layers.

In the search of the Jimenez home, agents located the bags of drugs and cash in the crawl space accessed through a bedroom closet. Jimenez’s older brother, Victor Jimenez Jr., lived in that room but claimed he didn’t know anything about the hidden stash and didn’t pay attention to his brother’s activities, court documents said.

Firearms were found in several different locations, including inside a bin of children’s toys in the bedroom of Mendoza and Braulio Jimenez.

Jimenez tried to run away but was caught in his backyard.

A separate search was done that same day at the North 17th Avenue home of the Munozes. Agents found a rifle, receipts and gun boxes for guns seized from Jimenez’s home and drug and cash ledgers, with some pages in his daughters’ room, documents said.

A sentencing memorandum filed by Jimenez’s lawyer said the Prosser native left high school in the 10th grade, in part because of his drug use. His near-lifelong struggle with drugs and alcohol started at age 12, and he primarily is addicted to marijuana and cocaine, wrote Scott Johnson.

Jimenez has held numerous jobs over the years, but none ever materialized into a legitimate career, Johnson said.

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A 24-year-old Pasco man was one of five extended family members indicted in a drug and money laundering conspiracy. Tri-City Herald File

His guilty plea in federal court was to conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of pure meth, 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 1 kilogram or more of heroin. He also entered pleas to possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of Fentanyl and two counts of money laundering.

“This case highlights the joint commitment, dedication and partnership between our state and federal partners in combating drug trafficking in our community. I commend their outstanding work,” William D. Hyslop, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said in a news release after Jimenez’s sentencing.

“This investigation made a substantial mark upon a large-scale organization that had chosen Eastern Washington as a point of operation,” he added. “It is these types of investigations that bring into focus the dangers drug trafficking organizations pose to our community.”

Marisela Mendoza pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony and is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 5.

Anna Munoz also admitted one count of misprision of a felony. Her sentencing is Nov. 12, though she has asked to move it to Dec. 3 because of a delay in completing a pre-sentencing investigation.

Victor Jimenez pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony and was given a deferred sentencing date in March 2021.

Reynaldo Munoz was the last of the suspects to plead guilty for his role in the operation, admitting conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of actual meth, 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 1 kilogram or more of heroin, along with three counts of money laundering.

In his plea, Munoz said he never possessed, sold or participated in the sale of illegal drugs or discussed the sale of drugs with any other member of the conspiracy.

He acknowledged conducting financial transactions both across the country and international, believing that it was connected to illegal drug activities, court documents said.

Munoz used to work as a truck driver but had to stop because of illness and injury. He then went to work in an auto body shop, and it was there he said he met people who offered him work if he agreed to pick up large sums of money from one location and take it somewhere else, documents said.

His sentencing is set for Dec. 3.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.