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URBANA — Nine alleged members of a drug-trafficking ring that authorities believe distributed multiple kilograms of cocaine throughout Central Illinois have been criminally charged in federal court.
Following an eight-month investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, a criminal complaint was filed Aug. 30 in U.S. District Court in Urbana, charging the alleged leader of the drug ring, Eddi S. Ramirez, 30, of Paxton, and eight other co-defendants with one count each of conspiracy to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.
In a 40-page affidavit filed in federal court, Angela Bray, a special agent with the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force in Springfield, said the group is believed to be responsible for the distribution of “multiple” kilograms of cocaine in Central Illinois, namely in the Springfield and Decatur areas.
As of Wednesday, four of the nine co-defendants, including Ramirez, were in police custody, while one had been released on bond, according to Sharon Paul, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Warrants have been issued for the arrest of the other four people named in the complaint, Paul said.
Ramirez appeared in U.S. District Court in Urbana for a preliminary detention hearing Thursday in front of Magistrate Judge David Bernthal. At the hearing, Urbana attorney Diana Lenik was appointed to represent Ramirez, and he was ordered detained to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, according to the U.S. District Court Clerk’s Office. The case has not been scheduled for another hearing yet.
Besides Ramirez, the other defendants who have been arrested and remain in the custody of authorities are Erica Kulak, 23, of Elgin; Felipe Quinones Jr., 31, of Houston, Texas; and Juan Vorrath, who is currently serving a prison term in Texas. Paul was unable to provide an age for Vorrath.
Meanwhile, one defendant, Jourdan Hullinger, 20, of Springfield, has been released on a $10,000 unsecured bond with special conditions, Paul said.
The charge of conspiracy to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison, Paul said. But if the defendant has one or more prior drug convictions, the mandatory penalty becomes 20 years to life, and if the defendant has two or more prior drug convictions, the mandatory sentence is life in prison.
Ramirez has at least one drug-related conviction. In 2009, he was sentenced to six years in prison for possession of a controlled substance after he pleaded guilty to having about 120 grams of cocaine in Urbana. A Department of Corrections spokesman said Ramirez was in prison from Jan. 8, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2011, when he was paroled. He was discharged from the DOC on Aug. 4, 2011.
Bray, in the affidavit, said that since January 2012, an investigation into cocaine-trafficking by the so-called “Ramirez Organization” had been under way by law enforcement agencies that included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI office in Springfield, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Illinois State Police and Decatur Police Department.
The DEA and FBI both declined to comment on the investigation this week, while the Decatur Police Department would only confirm that it worked in conjunction with the DEA on the investigation.
Bray said in the affidavit that on Jan. 3, 2012, DEA special agents and an Illinois State Police investigator met with Decatur police and a confidential informant, who told police that he knew a person involved in cocaine distribution in Springfield. The informant also told police he knew the person’s cocaine supply source, later identified as Ramirez.
With the help of the informant, a series of undercover operations into the Ramirez Organization ensued, during which Ramirez and other persons believed to be involved in cocaine trafficking were monitored through audio/video surveillance, controlled purchases and recorded telephone conversations, the affidavit said.
Early in the investigation, agents identified a house in Decatur that was believed to be used as a “stash house” by Ramirez and his “couriers” to store and package cocaine and through which to move money, Bray said. After a covert pole camera was installed, agents observed a pattern of drug trafficking activity at the residence, Bray said.
Later in the investigation, Vorrath, one of the defendant’s in this case, was arrested in Texas with 7,261 grams of cocaine aboard a bus. He agreed to speak with DEA agents and told them that Quinones, another defendant in this case, had been sending drugs to Ramirez in Champaign, Bray said.
After a wiretap was put on one of Ramirez’s phones, Ramirez and Quinones had a conversation that indicated that Ramirez was looking to obtain five kilograms of cocaine from Quinones, Bray said.
Further conversations were also monitored, according to the affidavit.
DEA agent Glenn Haas confirmed that a search warrant was executed on a home in the 200 block of East Pine Street in Paxton late last week, but he declined to say what was found or if the home had been occupied by Ramirez.
Paxton police assisted with the search, Police Chief Bob Bane confirmed, but he declined further comment.