Drug Trafficking Ringleader, Who Hid Huge Amounts of Drugs and Cash in Arlington, Sentenced to 15 Years
Defendant Laundered More than $1 Million Via Casino Gambling, Real Estate, and Vehicle Purchases
Seattle – The leader of a violent, prolific drug trafficking ring was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 15 years in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Cesar Valdez-Sanudo, 36, pleaded guilty in June 2022 to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering and carrying a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said he based the sentence on the “stunning size of the drug trafficking organization, and the amount of fentanyl and the death it is causing in our community.”
“Mr. Valdez-Sanudo led a violent ring of drug traffickers and buried kilos of meth, heroin, and fentanyl on his Arlington property, along with more than $300,000 cash – proceeds from the harm he spread across the community,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “This is a long prison sentence, but given the harm these drugs are doing in our community, it is the appropriate sanction.”
Members of the drug ring were indicted in December 2020, following a lengthy wire-tap investigation. Law enforcement seized large amounts of drugs during the investigation including a 49-pound load of methamphetamine that was coming to Washington State from California, disguised in boxes.
All told, in the course of the investigation law enforcement seized approximately 143 pounds of methamphetamine, 15 pounds of heroin, 35,000 suspected fentanyl pills, 24 firearms, and approximately $ 778,000.
Valdez-Sanudo was the leader of the ring. In messages to his coconspirators, he discussed violence against a member of the ring suspected of stealing a drug load. When he was arrested at the Snoqualmie Casino, Valdez-Sanudo had three firearms in his vehicle, one with a homemade silencer. Valdez-Sanudo had told others he planned to confront a member of the ring who owed a debt for drugs.
When law enforcement searched Valdez-Sanudo’s Arlington property, they seized more than 27 kilos of meth, nearly 6 kilos of heroin, and nearly 2 kilos of fentanyl pills, much of it buried underground. On the property, there were 10 firearms.
Law enforcement seized cash, checks, and the contents of bank accounts as proceeds of the drug crime. Valdez-Sanudo schemed to launder more than $1 million through casinos. He also purchased property and vehicles to launder drug money. Conspirators sought to avoid banking transaction reporting requirements by making deposits in amounts below the $10,000 threshold.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Tacoma Residence Office in partnership with Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team (TNET), Kent Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, SeaTac Police Department, Tacoma Police Department, Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force (SRDTF), the Skagit County Sheriff's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.