Two Vancouver men charged in Mexico-to-Washington drug ring

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Two Vancouver men were among 13 defendants indicted today on charges related to a drug-trafficking ring that sought to move large quantities of methamphetamine and heroin from Mexico to Washington state.

Hector M. Hernandez-Hernandez, 36, and Alberto Bernal-Rodriguez, 43, were arrested early Thursday at their homes in Vancouver and transported to Seattle to appear in U.S. District Court. They both were charged with a count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, said Doug James, assistant special agent in charge at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Their trial, along with those of 11 other defendants, is set for May 20, said Thomas Bates, a spokesman at the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

If convicted, the defendants face between 10 years and life in prison, due the volume of the drugs, Bates said.

The drug ring had tentacles throughout the state, from Everett to Vancouver and between the coastline and Eastern Washington, according to a news release.

During a yearlong investigation led by the DEA, law enforcement from multiple agencies seized more than 56 pounds of heroin and more than eight pounds of crystalline methamphetamine.

Investigators used court-authorized wire taps and intercepted hundreds, and possibly thousands, of phone calls and text messages since September 2012, according to the news release.

In two notable seizures earlier this year, law enforcement seized two kilograms of methamphetamine that was hidden in paint cans in the back of a truck stopped on Interstate 84 in Oregon. A seizure of more than 53 pounds of heroin happened in Aberdeen. Investigators found the drugs inside a gas tank in a vehicle. The heroin was wrapped up with mustard and red pepper to hide the drug’s odor from drug-detection dogs.

Matthew Barnes, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said heroin seizures are on the rise in the Pacific Northwest. This investigation prevented distribution of more than 4 million doses of heroin and profits of more than $1 million in drug sales, Barnes estimated.