URBANA — Nine alleged members of a drug-trafficking ring that authorities believe distributed cocaine throughout Central Illinois have been criminally charged in federal court.
Following an eight-month investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, a criminal complaint was filed Aug. 30 in U.S. District Court in Urbana, charging the alleged leader of the drug ring, Eddi S. Ramirez, 30, of Paxton, and eight other co-defendants with one count each of conspiracy to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.
In a 40-page affidavit filed in federal court, Angela Bray, a special agent with the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force in Springfield, said the group is believed to be responsible for the distribution of "multiple" kilograms of cocaine in the Springfield and Decatur areas.
Four of the nine co-defendants, including Ramirez, were in police custody, while one had been released on bond, according to Sharon Paul, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Arrest warrants have been issued for the other four, Paul said.
Ramirez was due to appear in U.S. District Court in Urbana for a preliminary detention hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
The other defendants in custody are Erica Kulak, 23, of Elgin; Felipe Quinones Jr., 31, of Houston, Texas; and Juan Vorrath, who is currently serving a prison term in Texas. Paul was unable to provide an age for Vorrath.
Meanwhile, Jourdan Hullinger, 20, of Springfield, has been released on a $10,000 unsecured bond with special conditions, Paul said.
The charge of conspiracy to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison, Paul said.
Bray, in the affidavit, said that since January 2012, an investigation into cocaine trafficking had been under way by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI office in Springfield, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, state police and Decatur police.
The DEA and FBI both declined to comment, while the Decatur Police Department would only confirm that it worked with the DEA on the investigation.
Bray said in the affidavit that on Jan. 3, 2012, DEA special agents and a state police investigator met with Decatur police and an informant, who told police that he knew a person involved in cocaine distribution in Springfield. The informant also told police he knew the person's cocaine supply source, later identified as Ramirez.
With the help of the informant, Ramirez and other persons believed to be involved in cocaine trafficking were monitored through audio/video surveillance, controlled purchases and recorded telephone conversations, the affidavit said.
Early in the investigation, agents identified a house in Decatur that was believed to be used by Ramirez and couriers to store and package cocaine and through which to move money, Bray said. After a covert camera was installed, agents observed a pattern of drug trafficking activity there, Bray said.
Later in the investigation, Vorrath, one of the defendants in this case, was arrested in Texas with 16 pounds of cocaine aboard a bus. He agreed to speak with DEA agents and told them that Quinones, another defendant in this case, had been sending drugs to Ramirez, Bray said.
After a wiretap was put on one of Ramirez's phones, Ramirez and Quinones had a conversation that indicated that Ramirez was looking to obtain five kilograms (about 11 pounds) of cocaine from Quinones, Bray said.
DEA agent Glenn Haas confirmed that a search warrant was executed on a home in the 200 block of East Pine Street in Paxton late last week, but he declined to say what was found or if the home had been occupied by Ramirez.
Paxton police assisted with the search, Police Chief Bob Bane confirmed, but he declined further comment.