Sacramento grocery store owner at center of FBI investigation linked to Mexican cartel – CBS Sacramento
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A Sacramento grocery store owner at the center of an FBI drug trafficking investigation is accused of using his store as a front and associating with one of Mexico’s most ruthless cartels. .
This six-year investigation spans the entire state and began after an informant agreed to work with the FBI in exchange for help with his immigration status. Now two suspects face federal drug charges.
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Customers of La Victoria are used to visiting the Mexican supermarket on Del Paso Boulevard for their favorite dishes. Shoppers were shocked to learn that the grocery store would be linked to a ruthless drug cartel and used as a front for cocaine trafficking.
“I’m shocked to hear this because I see a lot of people coming into the store,” said customer Lashawnda Broughton.
Market owner Jose Manuel Chavez Zepeda was arrested on federal drug charges, including cocaine distribution, along with Denis Ponce Castillo. Court documents claim the two used the supermarket for drug trafficking operations and laundered the profits.
“It’s not good to know there are kids crossing here,” Broughton said. “There’s a church and a school not too far from here.”
The FBI believes the Mexican cartel Jalisco New Generation supplied the cocaine to Chavez: first smuggling the drugs across the border, then traveling to Los Angeles where the drugs were allegedly loaded into trucks and driven in Ceres before being distributed throughout Sacramento.
“It’s really depressing because we’re already in a bad neighborhood as it is, and it’s not benefiting people in the community,” said client Paul Yanez.
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An informant who helped distribute and purchase the cocaine told the FBI that Chavez called Ponce the “stash pad” manager. Investigators say they have video and audio of the suspects, including an interaction where Chavez talks about the “beauty” and “purity” of cocaine.
This so-called grocery store drug ring has customers who say it will keep them coming back.
“If they’re using this as a front to sell drugs, it’s unclear what else they would do,” Broughton said.
The two suspects are accused of selling tens of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine. Court records accuse the men of years of drug trafficking, however, the documents detail only one transaction involving an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS). Mr. Ponce’s lawyer says he is innocent.
“[I] urge the public to reserve judgment until all facts are known and to respect his privacy and that of his family, and we will do everything we can to defend Mr. Ponce,” lawyer Etan Zaitsu explained. “I think it’s all sensational and it’s unfair to drag your name through the mud like that.”
Zaitsu explained that he disputes the claims coming from a CHS.
“What we’re talking about is a six-year investigation and all the government has to prove is an alleged transaction,” he said. “This single transaction was not conducted by a professional, but by a CHS trying to make a deal,” he explained.
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If convicted, the pair could spend anywhere from 5 to 40 years in prison and face up to $5 million in fines.