Tulsa drug cartel probe shows few results yet
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 8:14 AM
Investigations into Mexican drug cartel operatives in Tulsa are active despite no major public blows to the alleged organization in almost six years of low-profile investigations, according to law enforcement officials.
Tulsa County Sheriff's Office Maj. Tom Huckaby, commander of the violent crimes unit, said his unit's investigation works alongside federal investigations by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
"If you look at it like working the mob, if you don't work it right, all you're getting is little fish," Huckaby said. "We're taking our time and working all the angles."
Huckaby did not specify how many alleged cartel members are believed to operate in Tulsa.
"We have identified cartel drugs in our county, and the violent crimes task force is working cartel dope and cartel members," he said. "We are working that, and we continue to work that. ... It's an ongoing, slow process."
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Rich Davis, who oversees Tulsa's FBI office, said he can't discuss specific investigations but said his office's work involving cartel drugs and cartel influence in Tulsa is to disrupt and dismantle the trafficking over a long period of time.
"Cases like this are tough," Davis said. "Folks that are involved in this type of activity are very well-insulated. They have been through the system before. They are difficult cases. This is their job. Just like our job is to thwart that type of activity, their job is to conduct that activity. They take it seriously."
Davis said a lot of what the bureau does in these cases is build their intelligence of an organization so that they are in position to affect it.
"They are not easy cases," he said. "They are very compartmentalized organizations, and it's hard to sometimes put the big picture together. But you know, that's why we try to focus on intelligence around the cases to try and build the big picture."
Davis said he doesn't believe Tulsa is a headquarters for any specific cartel, saying there are "a lot of active investigations."
Court records filed in a recent Tulsa County District Court case involving former Tulsa Police Officer Kendra Miller give some insight into FBI investigations into several Tulsa Police officers and alleged drug trafficking starting in 2006.
The investigations involved alleged drug trafficking through Hispanic night clubs, and focused on Miller, Erik Benjamin Lujan, also known as Julio Lujan, and Arnulfo "Arnie" Murillo, a Tulsa nightclub owner, according to court records.
None of them apparently were ever charged with any crimes directly related to the extensive investigation.
However, records filed in Tulsa federal court show that Lujan was charged by a grand jury with unlawfully carrying a firearm in 2008.
Lujan pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months in prison with a three-year term of supervised release, during which Lujan, an illegal immigrant, was to remain outside the United States, according to federal court documents.
Lujan was a manager at Club Imperio, 9379 E. 46th St., which was owned by Murillo. The club is now called "Haze" and is partially owned by Murillo, records show.
Club Imperio was the target of a 2011 multi-agency drug bust that was part of a then three-year FBI investigation, according to court documents.
The bust involved about 80 law enforcement officers, including the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office and the FBI.
Minor amounts of drugs were recovered compared to the size of the raid, several law enforcement officials agreed. Five men were arrested in the bust, arrest records show.
Tulsa Police Capt. Luther Breashears testified about the FBI's focus of the investigation during Miller's arbitration.
Quoting from an FBI memo, Breashears said the "criminal corruption case" involved Murillo, Lujan, Miller, "someone who is redacted, police corruption in the Tulsa Police Department" and CSLPO - an FBI case-type acronym for Corruption of State and Local Public Officials, Davis confirmed.
In the memo quoted by Breashears, former Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer signed consent forms "authorizing the placement of recording devices ... and transmitters inside of the police vehicles of Kendra Miller, John McDowell, (Stephen) Boyes and Thomas Fees."
None of the officers named in the arbitration hearing show any criminal charges against them related to the FBI's investigation.
Miller was fired from TPD in December 2009 for policy violations related to an internal affairs investigation and the inconclusive results of the FBI investigation.
McDowell and Fees are former Tulsa Police officers. Boyes is currently a Tulsa Police sergeant working in the department's Mingo Valley Division.
Boyes could not be reached for comment.
Fees resigned from Tulsa Police in 2010 after he was placed on administrative leave and charged with feloniously pointing a weapon and carrying a firearm while under the influence at a Tulsa bar.
Fees later pleaded guilty to two firearms charges and received a three-year deferred sentence, court records show.
Breashears, in his testimony during Miller's arbitration hearing, said Fees resigned as part of a plea agreement with the Tulsa County District Attorney's office in his criminal case.
"The District Attorney's Office will put conditions on our employees and have recently - as to their cooperation or a plea bargaining agreement for punishment through the court that they will resign from the department, basically getting out of law enforcement as part of their plea agreement, which happened recently with Officer Tom Fees," Breashears said.
McDowell, formerly a sergeant, was terminated in October 2011, according to TPD records.
An internal affairs investigation found he violated seven policies and rules, according to a TPD personnel order.
McDowell was the ranking police officer during an FBI sting in May 2009 at a local motel, but the termination was not related to that incident, according to the order.
At the sting, an undercover FBI agent posed as a Mexican drug dealer staying at the motel with large amounts of cash and possibly drugs, according to court records.
The FBI sting played a large role in the federal investigation and grand jury probe in 2008 that resulted in charges against six former Tulsa police officers and a federal agent, as well as accusations of criminal behavior against five unindicted officers.
McDowell was not indicted in that case.
Records from Miller's arbitration identify McDowell as a security officer at Club Imperio, working a second job in addition to working for TPD.
According to arbitration records, the FBI met with Miller nearly two years after they began the inconclusive investigation into her and alleged drug trafficking at Club Imperio.
As previously reported in the World, Miller had a romantic relationship with Lujan and was often at Club Imperio both on and off duty, according to court records.
In a Tulsa World interview with Miller in September, Miller said that when the FBI met with her and confronted her with the inconclusive investigation, they offered her immunity from the allegations to work for them in an undercover role.
Miller said she recorded the conversations but would not allow the World access to the recordings at that time.
Miller also would not say whether she participated in the FBI's investigation.
"I believe that's why I was terminated," Miller said. "Because I have evidence of crimes."
FBI Agent David Clarke, FBI Agent Lance Rollins and former Tulsa Police Sgt. David Brockman were at the meeting to ask her to go undercover with the promise of immunity, according to testimony in Miller's arbitration.
"They wanted me to go into the club and commit crimes," she said. "They wanted me to accept bribes. They wanted me to perjure myself. They wanted me to do things that are not only unethical but illegal, too."
When Miller asked them for the offer in writing, she said they refused.
"There are drugs in every Tulsa club, whether the manager or owner has" knowledge of it or not, Miller said when asked if she knew about the alleged drug ring being investigated.
Miller's termination in 2009 involved violations allegedly committed during the nearly two-year FBI investigation and Internal Affairs investigation before she met with the investigators, according to court records.
At her arbitration hearing, former Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer testified that he never authorized "administrative immunity" for Miller and that if "administrative immunity" exists, it could only be granted by the Tulsa mayor.
Other FBI tactics reported in Miller's testimony involve informants who allegedly sold drugs outside Club Imperio and references to many low-level arrests and charges.
Davis said the police corruption cases largely don't factor into the processes of their investigations.
"It's not just been a problem here," he said. "There's definitely some individuals who were highlighted in the past, but every agency here is very conscientious about the job that they do, and if they sense a problem in their ranks, I know that they are going to take care of it immediately."
Oklahoma meth traffic
Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said most of the meth in Oklahoma comes from Mexican cartels with a minority of cases coming from local meth labs.
"Just about every case that involves meth right now - other than meth labs - involves cartel," Woodward said. "They have operatives here. They (the operatives) get their portion of the shipments."
The portions are then divided up locally to dealers and gangs who do business with the operatives, he said.
"We call them cell groups," Woodward said. "They aren't cartel members, but they work with the cartel."
Woodward called Oklahoma "prime real estate for cartel activity" because once the drugs make it across the border states, they are more easily able to ship west toward California on Interstate 40 and east toward Chicago and the coast on Interstate 44.
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367