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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

District of Arizona

For Immediate Release

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ann Birmingham Scheel, United States Attorney

Contact: Manny Tarango

Nine Sentenced to Prison for Trafficking Cocaine in Heart of Tohono O’Odham Nation

TUCSON, Ariz. – Nine defendants were sentenced to prison for charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine or possession with intent to distribute cocaine. This was a result of a five-month investigation led by the Tohono O’Odham Police Department’s Anti-Violence Unit (AVU) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) narcotics unit. The investigation focused on a network of tribal members involved in the cocaine trade centered in Sells, Arizona.

In the course of the investigation, which began in December 2009, undercover agents made 39 separate buys totaling over $10,000, purchasing over 250 grams of cocaine from various targets of the investigation. On May 15, 2010, the Tohono O’Odham Nation Police Department led a multi-jurisdictional task force in a pre-dawn sweep, arresting nine suspects and searching seven locations.

A total of ten defendants were arrested and charged as a result of the investigation. The following nine defendants were all sentenced to terms of imprisonment: Eric James Escalante, Ronna Helene Widener, Jennelle Desertshine Hendricks, Mary Lou Moristo, Vivan Silas, Christopher Cody Lewandowski, Rene Wilson, Terrance Keyonnie, Aleron Sean Martine. The tenth defendant, Lawrence Michael Lopez, was sentenced to a term of probation.

The Tohono O’Odham Police Department AVU has participated in a joint-training program by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs which grants tribal police authority to investigate and arrest on federal charges. The Tohono O’Odham Police Department is also a recipient of a U.S. Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhood pilot program grant to enhance targeted law enforcement and community education on gun and gang-related violence. As a result, the Tohono O’Odham Police have identified and monitored 28 separate criminal street gangs within the Nation, many of whom are known to be involved in the drug trade.

Tactical support for the investigation involved agents from the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the BIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The prosecution in this case was handled by Angela Woolridge, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Tucson.