Tri-Cities landscaping company hid ‘staggering’ sales of fentanyl and meth hauled from Arizona

·4 min read

A Richland man has been sentenced to over 12 years in federal prison for his role in a large drug trafficking organization that used a Kennewick landscaping business to hide its illegal activities.

Jose Mendoza-Ruelas, 38, a Mexican national, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to distribute substantial quantities of methamphetamine, fentanyl and cocaine.

He and the drug trafficking organization were bringing in tens of thousands of deadly pills to sell in the Tri-Cities and other communities, according to court documents.

The investigation started in November 2019 when the Drug Enforcement Administration out of Seattle observed a man who had traveled to the Tri-Cities from Seattle accept a shopping bag retrieved from inside an Affordable Landscaping truck.

The case moved forward in early 2021 when a person, prompted by a news report about fentanyl overdoses, came to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

They reported suspicious activity they had learned of from a relative of a member of the drug trafficking organization linked to Affordable Landscaping, according to court documents.

Law enforcement was told that drugs were picked up in Tucson, Ariz., and then distributed in the Tri-Cities, Moses Lake, Yakima and other parts of Eastern Washington.

The Drug Enforcement Administration began working with a confidential source, who arranged multiple meetings with Mendoza-Ruelas to purchase drugs.

Mendoza-Ruelas told the source that the organization would give him 50,000 to 60,000 fentanyl-laced pills in addition to large quantities of methamphetamine, according to court documents.

Mendoza-Ruelas also said he was negotiating a 30-pound meth delivery at the time he was taken into custody, according to the prosecution.

In July 2021 search warrants were served on several homes, including two linked to Mendoza-Ruelas.

Nothing suspicious was found at his girlfriend’s house in Benton City, where he sometimes stayed, but a search of a house in the 1000 block of Smith Avenue in Richland where he and others lived turned up a pistol and a digital scale.

Although there were no narcotics or large amounts of money at either home, a search of several houses used by the drug trafficking organization and the landscaping business on the 3800 block of West Kennewick Avenue found loaded assault rifles hanging on the wall, more than $165,000, much of it hidden within a wall, a digital money counter and a 45-caliber pistol and materials often used for street level drug packaging.

The narcotics that Mendoza-Ruelas sold were delivered to the Affordable Landscaping compound, and he was often there and knew that was where the drug shipments were processed, according to court documents.

Amount of drugs ‘staggering’

The Eastern Washington U.S. Attorney’s Office asked Judge Mary Dimke to sentence Mendoza-Ruelas, one of eight defendants in the case, to 15 years in prison.

Mendoaz-Ruelas’ attorney, Alex Hernandez III of Yakima, said a 10-year sentence would be sufficient, arguing that his client was not among the members of the drug trafficking organization who lived at the West Kennewick Avenue compound where money and assault weapons were found.

The defense attorney argued that the prosecution was overstating Mendoza-Ruelas’ role in the drug trafficking organization and that Mendoza-Ruelas was the victim of poverty in Mexico and cannot read or write.

His mother wrote a letter to the court saying that without her son’s help from the Tri-Cities she would not be able to pay for her kidney dialysis in Mexico.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stepahnie Van Marter said in a court document that the amount of narcotics in the case are “staggering” and that evidence from cellphones, a cooperating defendant and Mendoza-Ruelas’ comments recorded by a confidential source showed his strong role in a sophisticated drug trafficking organization.

In addition to sentencing Mendoza-Reulas to 12 years and 6 months in prison, Dimke also sentenced him to five years probation after his release.

“Drug distribution continues to be a scourge in the Tri-Cities and elsewhere,” said U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref. “I commend the collaborative efforts of state, local, and federal law enforcement to identify Mr. Mendoza-Ruelas’s drug trafficking activities and to prevent him from further distributing this poison in our communities.”

The case was investigated by the DEA Tri-Cities, Border Patrol, the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force, Richland Police Department, Kennewick Police Department, Pasco Police Department and West Richland Police Department.

Other defendants in the case are Oscar Chavez-Garcia, Joel Chavez-Duran, Franchesca Llanos-Delgado, Osvaldo Moreno, Leticia Rodriguez, Carlos Ruelas-Valdovins and Ignacio Garay Ornelas.

Chavez-Garcia and Chavez-Duran have pleaded guilty but have not been sentenced.