California heroin dealers who used code words like ‘taco’ in phone orders get 24 years in prison

Dec 19, 2023, 6:34 PM

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two Southern California brothers who ran a heroin-delivery operation — taking telephone orders from customers using code words like “taco” — have been sentenced to 24 years each in federal prison, prosecutors announced.

Julio Cesar Martinez, 45, of Riverside, and Victor Martinez, 46, of Hemet, parts of California’s sprawling Inland Empire, were sentenced Monday. Both pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to distribute heroin and acknowledged distributing at least 29 kilograms (64 pounds) of the drug in Orange County, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

The ring operated from at least September 2003 to July 2021 and sold heroin that was smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico by couriers who sometimes hid the drug in their body cavities, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Call centers run out of workers’ homes handled orders from buyers who used the names of Mexican foods to buy drugs. A gram of heroin was a “taco” and an ounce (a little over 28 grams) was an “enchilada,” authorities said.

Runners then delivered the order and took payment.

One customer died in 2016 in Orange County from overdosing on heroin and other drugs, prosecutors said.

Other members of the ring placed the money in bank accounts in deposits of $10,000 or less to evade federal reporting requirements, prosecutors said.

“These two brothers took drug dealing to another level by operating a heroin-delivery service that profited on the addiction and affliction of others,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in the statement. “While they and their families lived lavishly, these defendants ignored the destruction they caused in our community. Today’s sentence sends a clear message that we will not stand for misconduct of this sort.”

The brothers were among more than a dozen people targeted under what authorities called “Operation Horse Caller,” a five-year federal effort to dismantle the ring.

Prosecutors said that so far, sixteen people have been convicted because of the effort.

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California heroin dealers who used code words like ‘taco’ in phone orders get 24 years in prison