Woman charged as federal ‘kingpin’ in major metro Denver-wide drug bust

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DENVER (KDVR) -- Law enforcement announced Wednesday the results of “a very significant” operation that resulted in the arrest and charging of more than two dozen members of a major Mexican drug trafficking operation based in Denver. Candelaria Vallejo-Gallo, who lives in Aurora, was charged as a federal drug kingpin.

“Vallejo-Gallo is a Mexican national in the country unlawfully, who has been charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise which is also known as a drug kingpin charge. To be considered a drug kingpin, the individual has to violate the Controlled Substances Act as part of a series of related or ongoing violations. Additionally, the defendant must be an organizer, supervisor or manager of at least five other persons connected in the same activity, and obtain substantial income or resources from the series of violations," U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said.

If convicted of being a kingpin, Vallejo-Gallo faces at least 20 years -- and potentially life -- in prison.

Of the 30 defendants indicted, 24 have been arrested and one is in state custody on a separate charge. Four others are in Mexico and one is at large in the U.S.

According to the indictments and other court documents, following an investigation that began in late 2018, agents seized approximately 400 pounds of methamphetamine, five pounds of heroin, four pounds of cocaine, and 15,000 fentanyl pills, which were disguised to look like prescription oxycodone. 

“Most, if not all of the fentanyl pills were disguised to look like prescription oxycodone. I cannot overstate how dangerous that was to the community. The influx of fake prescription opioids is growing and deadly concern for this office and law enforcement community as a whole. Had these pills reached the streets, thousands of unwitting end users would’ve been at significant risk of overdose and death as we’ve seen too much of already in Colorado," Dunn said.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips said the technique aims to increase profits and prevent users from knowing the lethal consequences of their narcotics.

"Mexican cartel elements such as this criminal enterprise are directly responsible for the steady high rate of overdose deaths in the United States from both opioids and methamphetamine. The unforgiving cycle of methamphetamine and opioid addiction is causing catastrophic damage to American families. This criminal enterprise was responsible for poisoning our community and furthering the opioid and meth epidemic but today our community is safer," Phillips said.

IRS Special Agent in Charge Amanda Prestegard said, “It’s crucially important to include a financial component in investigation of drug related crime. Greed is a trafficker's main motivation. Drug kingpins don’t always touch the drugs but they do always touch the money.”

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