Drug Cartel Infiltration of MCSO: Four of Seven Officers Cleared of Criminal Wrongdoing; Face Internal Investigation
Four of the seven Maricopa County Sheriff's Office employees suspected of having ties to a drug-and human-smuggling operation have been cleared of any criminal conduct following an investigation conducted by an outside agency.
The four unidentified employees have returned to work, and now face an internal investigation.
No other officers are being investigated, MCSO spokesman Jeff Sprong tells New Times.
The four officers cleared of criminal wrongdoing do not include three MCSO employees arrested last month over alleged ties to a Mexican cartel.
The three officers, Deputy Alfredo Navarette and detention officers Sylvia Najera and Marcella Hernandez, were arrested on May 24, after a nearly year-long investigation into their connections to drug- and human-smuggling cartels.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says that in May of last year, his office received a tip that the officers may be connected to the cartels.
"We came up with the information, and we clean up our own house," America's self-proclaimed "toughest" sheriff grumbled at a press conference the day of the arrests. "We confirmed our concerns today when [Navarette] admitted to going to our command center and getting information to give to the cartels."
But Navarette, an MCSO deputy since 2000, wasn't just tipping off the cartels about Arpaio's anti-human-smuggling campaigns, he was smuggling humans himself.
When MCSO deputies stormed the west Valley home of Navarette, there were two illegal immigrants in his house (as well as 10 pounds of heroin). According to Arpaio they'd been smuggled into the country illegally and were waiting for the deputy to transport them to California.
Navarette, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement-trained member of Arpaio's anti-human-smuggling task force, was not on human-smuggling detail for the year he was under investigation, Arpaio says, and recently was suspended for unrelated procedural violations.
Hernandez also admitted to having ties to the cartels, and that she is currently eight months pregnant with the baby of Lorenzo Arce-Torres, a known cartel "kingpin" based in Phoenix. When she was arrested, deputies found more than $16,000 in her purse.
Unlike Navarette and Hernandez, Najera, an MCSO detention officer since 2004, refused to cooperate with investigators.
When asked why the public should continue to trust him to be sheriff when the cartels have managed to infiltrate his agency, Arpaio scolded reporters with the following (while inexplicably referring to himself in the third person):
"This sheriff, when something comes to his attention, he doesn't sit back, he takes action," which is debatable/a lie.
Navarette was booked on 24 counts of drug- and human smuggling-related crimes, including assisting in a criminal syndicate, operating a drophouse, and human smuggling. Hernandez was booked on six counts, including narcotic drug transport, conspiracy narcotics transportation, and illegal control of an enterprise. Najera was booked on four counts, including money laundering and participating in a criminal syndicate.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Thanksgiving Weekend DUI Checkpoints Around Metro Phoenix
Fri., Nov. 27, 7:00pm
Fri., Nov. 27, 7:30pm
Sat., Nov. 28, 8:00pm
Sat., Nov. 28, 8:00pm
- Arizona Spends Nearly $367K to Honor Muslim Syrian Immigrant
- Arizona Is One of the Most Dangerous States — but At Least We Beat Out Mississippi