Two former employees in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office have posted bail after being charged with conspiring to smuggle heroin and launder money. Three in total are facing charges.
Former Deputy Sheriff Alfredo Navarette, who worked in the human smuggling unit, and two corrections officers, Sylvia Najera and Marcella Hernandez, were arrested in May in connection with an alleged multinational heroin ring, as part of a sting that resulted in 19 arrests.
According to investigators, wiretaps allegedly recorded Hernandez and Navarette discussing moving to a ranch in Mexico, owned by the ring’s alleged leader Francisco Arce-Torres, who, according to the Arizona Republic “is accused of having ties to the Sinaloan cartel and who detectives believe fathered a child Hernandez gave birth to shortly after her arrest.”
From the Republic’s initial report on the arrests:
Arce-Torres, who authorities say was the ringleader, arranged for heroin to be brought into the Valley after his brothers produced the drug on the family’s ranch in Mexico, according to Superior Court and Justice Court documents filed Tuesday.
Once the drugs arrived in Arizona, they were shipped to two houses in the West Valley, where the heroin was diluted to create more product, investigators said in the court documents.
According to court documents, the three former sheriff’s department employees were allegedly central to moving about $56,000 in heroin each week, and then hiding the profits. Hernandez would allegedly make the pick-ups, and Najera and Navarette set up a shell company called West Utilities Group Inc. to launder almost $50,000.
Authorities also suspect Navarette was involved in smuggling people, something they say is supported by the two illegal immigrants found in his home when he was arrested. “Navarrette assists this (human smuggling) organization by operating a drophouse and on at least five occasions transported illegal aliens from Arizona to California for the organization,” court documents say.
A Superior Court judge reduced Navarette’s bond from $1 million to $25,000 on Tuesday, though he has not yet been released. Najera posted $12,000 bail over the summer, and Hernandez was released Tuesday after posting the $25,000 bail, reduced from $2 million.
Arpaio, who called the alleged ring “despicable” at the time, was not pleased with the decision. “You have a deputy sheriff who has worked on our human smuggling and given intelligence out, putting my deputies in danger, tipping them smugglers off and now this guy’s getting back on the street with $25,000?” he said. “I don’t understand this, I really don’t.”