SALT LAKE CITY — Numerous Utah gang members were indicted Tuesday on drug trafficking charges for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, fentanyl, and heroin across the Wasatch Front, according to the acting United States Attorney for Utah Andrea Martinez.
A grand jury issued indictments against 27 leaders of the Nortenos gang, charging them with a conspiracy to distribute more 400 pounds of methamphetamine, 50 pounds of heroin, and thousands of fentanyl pills throughout the Salt Lake Valley as part of a conspiracy with the Mexican drug cartel Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
The indictments follow previous charges relating to this operation in a widespread effort by the Unified Police Department's Metro Gang Unit (MGU) in Utah, along with the DEA, ATF, IRS, and U.S. Marshals Service.
DEA Special Agent Jay Tinkler said meth is currently the drug most trafficked in Utah.
The investigation began in September 2020 when Utah and federal agencies targeted drug and firearms trafficking activities of Salt Lake City gang members. The recent indictments follow a previous federal investigation in which 38 members of the Nortenos gang and their associates were charged with trafficking methamphetamine and heroin with the Sinaloa Cartel in February, 2019.
Law enforcement officials in the new investigation uncovered that the primary narcotics supplier for the group was CJNG, and from there discovered the conspiracy between the Utah gang members and the cartel to transport drugs to Utah, with the proceeds heading back to Mexico.
All the defendants charged in this and previous investigations will now face criminal prosecution from the Utah U.S. Attorney's Office along with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
FOX 13 spoke to AJ Collett, a person in recovery from meth addiction, about the issue and the recent drug bust specifically.
“I’ve been homeless… I’ve been incarcerated… in and out of prison. I was addicted to meth for 15 years… It kills,” Collett said. “Honestly, the biggest takeaway is that people's lives are going to be saved.”
Saving lives not only from usage of the drug itself but the violence that it leads to as well, he says.
“When I started doing meth, I became extremely violent,” Collett said. “ I’d rob people to feed my addiction. I thought everyone was out to get me, so I carried a gun and a knife. I just became really violent. It just does something — it changes you.”
This violence is also something that Tinkler addressed in Tuesday's press conference.
“There is more violent crime tied to meth than there is any other narcotic,” Tinkler said.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera agreed.
“It's not just the gang that becomes dangerous. It becomes the addict," Rivera said.
While investigators hope this bust sends a message to Mexico, gangs and cartels, Collett had a message for those struggling with addiction.
“My worst possible day today is a million times better than the best day when I was using drugs," he said.