Twenty-two defendants federally accused of drug trafficking in Sebastian, Crawford and Logan counties allegedly pushed at least more than half a pound of methamphetamine onto the streets of the three counties since the beginning of 2019.


The defendants — 14 of whom were arrested Thursday in the Western District of Arkansas’ Operation Bear Mountain Bingo — were arrested from an indictment with 15 counts related to meth distribution and money laundering. They allegedly dealt 280 grams of meth in the three counties as they resided on both sides of the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line, according to court and arrest records. Meth is commonly sold in grams to its users.


The defendants listed in the Aug. 26 indictment are Manuel "Chuy" De Jesus Perez Echeverria, Humberto "Beto" Acosta-Martinez, Julio Ivan Enriquez-Munoz, Alberto Ledesma, Efrain Maciel-Martinez, Traye Everett Martin, Julie Ann Pyles, Ezequiel Rodriguez, Paula Lynne Rider, Ronal Salinas, Benjamin "Ben" Valdez, Amber Renee Vance, Emily Elizabeth Williams, Michael Dean Wilson and four others not arrested Thursday. Their indictment was related to a similar previous indictment from which defendants Emmanual Miranda, Israel Miranda-Zapata, Brenda Golden Day and Alexis Tirado were arrested on Aug. 5.


The 14 defendants arrested Thursday allegedly have ties to Mexico and the Jalisco New Generation Mexican cartel, according to a Western District news release. The charges to all 18 defendants are part of "a large-scale, multi-state drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy," according to a Thursday news release from the Western District.


Cartels are commonly at the top of the supply chain for local drug dealing operations, according to 12th and 21st District Drug Task Force Director Paul Smith.


"The individuals arrested today enriched themselves off the misery and sufferings of others," said FBI Little Rock Field Office Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch in the news release. "Working alongside the (Drug Enforcement Administration) and our tremendous Arkansas law enforcement partners, we are committed to dismantling criminal organizations who flood our communities with dangerous narcotics and create violence in our neighborhoods."


The indictment for the 18 defendants alleges all of them at least as early as Jan. 1, 2019, to July 28, 2020, conspired with each other "and with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury" to distribute a substance containing meth. Ledesma and a defendant not arrested on at least two occasions each dealt more than 50 grams of the substance, the indictment states.


Perez-Echeverria, Valdez and another defendant on or around April 16 allegedly caused a financial transaction involving interstate commerce and the proceeds of meth sales "knowing the transaction was designed in whole or in part to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds" of the drug deal. Perez-Echeverria two days later allegedly conducted a similar transaction with Rodriguez and Pyles.


Perez-Echeverria is also accused of possessing a firearm in relation to his drug activity, the indictment reads.


The July indictment alleges Miranda-Zapata and Miranda on Feb. 12 distributed more than 50 grams of meth. Day on two occasions distributed more than 5 grams of meth.


Agents of the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Arkansas State Police, detectives from the Fort Smith, Greenwood and Paris police departments and investigators from the Crawford, Logan and Sebastian county sheriff’s offices executed the investigation.


"This investigation has dealt a serious setback to drug trafficking organizations that endanger not only our communities in the Western District of Arkansas but also other communities throughout the nation," First Assistant U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes said in the news release. "The indictments and arrests in this case were only made possible due to the unprecedented cooperation between Federal, State and Local Agencies."


"Any time we can take folks off the street that are cartel-connected, that’s always going to make your community safer," said Sebastian County Sheriff’s Capt. Philip Pevehouse.