The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee announced a federal indictment against 37 people accused of taking part in a large scale conspiracy to distribute heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl and cocaine from within the Tennessee State Prison system.
According to a news release, eight other people were charged in separate indictments last week and two other individuals had previously been charged in connection with the conspiracy that prosecutors said has been ongoing since at least 2018.
The newly unsealed indictment charges that 29-year-old Humberto Morales, aka Pelon, of Columbia, Tenn., orchestrated the conspiracy from the inside of an unspecified state prison, having been incarcerated since 2014.
Links to Violent Crimes
Prosecutors said in the news release that charges from this investigation also include kidnapping, money laundering, making threats by electronic communication and firearms violations, although they did not specifically comment on any of those charges or incidents.
The indictments allege that the organization had ties to MS-13, Sur-13, and other street gangs that distributed tens of thousands of fentanyl-laced pills; multiple kilograms of fentanyl and heroin; over fifty pounds of very pure methamphetamine; as well as smaller quantities of cocaine and marijuana.
In addition to the distribution of drugs, court documents also allege that the conspiracy is linked to at least one murder, as well as other violent crimes.
Prosecutors allege that Morales was the leader of the organization and routinely obtained contraband cell phones that were smuggled into prison facilities.
Morales is accused of using those phones and encrypted communication services such as WhatsApp to orchestrate activities of the drug distribution network, from directing the flow of drugs between Middle Tennessee and Mexico to ordering acts of violence.
Prosecutors said that money made from the drug network were also used to pay co-conspirators, to pay for drug shipment expenses, bail and legal services and to purchase firearms.
Prosecutors detailed several alleged acts of violence on part of the criminal organization including the severing of a woman's hand with a hatchet in 2019 after she was kidnapped and driven around Nashville as punishment for losing collected drug money.
That woman was left lying wounded in the street, and prosecutors said that a video of the attack was recorded and sent on an encrypted cell phone communication service.
Another incident allegedly involved a hitman, identified as 28-year-old Magdiel Pina Ramirez, aka Big Show, who prosecutors said cut off part of his own pinky finger to prove his loyalty to the organization after he lost or stole a small amount of drugs.
Ramirez is a native of Mexico and is currently believed to be on the run from U.S. authorities in México.
Prosecutors said that act was directed by Morales, and Morales has also been charged along with 49-year-old Kim Birdsong, of Nashville, with using encrypted phone services to murder a person known as “Pancho”/”Mekaniko.”
According to the indictment, cash, drugs, and the cancellation of a pre-existing drug-related debt were to be provided as payment for that murder.
That person was then shot multiple times in April of 2019, in Nashville, but survived the shooting.
Law enforcement agencies seized more than $160,000 in cash drug proceeds and multiple firearms, "including a handgun which had been illegally modified to operate as a machine gun," and a sound suppressor for a gun.
Some of the defendants have been incarcerated throughout the investigation, while others were arrested recently.
Prosecutors said that Morales’ girlfriend, 32-year-old Erika Vasquez, aka Chula, of Memphis and Columbia, Tenn., is still wanted and is believed to be in Mexico.
Morales has an arrest history in Williamson County, and according to court records, he was charged with several violent crimes including especially aggravated kidnapping, which he was found not guilty of, as well as aggravated robbery, a charge that he was later found guilty of.
Others charged in the investigation include:
- Jose Juan Alvarado, 44; Oscar Avelar Anguiano, aka Chucky, 33; Grecia Barrios, 33; Kim Lamont Birdsong, aka Bird, 49; Jennifer Cano, 33; Ricardo Davalos-Martinez, 28; Mario Garcia Flores, aka Christhian Colmenares-Ruiz, 33; Jonhy Fernando Jimenez, 38; Antonio Sanchez-Lopez, 23; Jennifer Montejo, 33; Korrine Parker, 43; Luis Ramirez Escudero, 27; Phillip Christopher Smith, aka Felipe, 41; Sinquan D. Smith, 27, all of Nashville.
- Avigael Cruz, aka Traviesio, 29; Billy Cruz, aka Pee Wee 26; Kevin Oliva-Hernandez, 31; Jairo Rostran, aka Poffi, 28, all of Smyrna.
- Rico Gross, 38; Armando Lopez, aka Mando, 40; Jesse Sanchez, aka Papi, aka Bori, 31, all of Goodlettsville.
- Jacob Lee, aka Grenas, 25; Justin Blake Lee, aka Chino, 26; Jasmine Tayor, 26, all of Manchester.
- Kevin Tidwell, aka Miklo, 27; Melinda Tidwell, both of Ashland City.
- Terrance Marquette Bobo, 28, of Memphis.
- Pearline Neal, 31, of Gallatin.
- Austin Dodd, 25, aka Chucky, of Chapmansboro.
- Tiffany Messick, 27, of Shelbyville.
- Stacy Owens, 31, of Decaturville.
- Zenaida Cano, 42; of Phoenix, Arizona.
- David Ku, 45, of Inglewood, California.
- Gerson Jimenez-Garcia, 38, of Honduras.
Also according to the release, Jennifer Montejo, charged in the conspiracy in December 2019, was sentenced on Friday to 25 years in prison after she pleaded guilty in Nov. 2020.
Montejo was arrested at a Nashville bus station as she returned from California after travelling to Los Angeles days earlier.
"Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart praised the tremendous efforts of the law enforcement agencies involved in this extensive investigation and noted the unparalleled cooperation between the agencies and the significant resources contributed by the Tennessee Department of Correction and its desire to reduce criminal activity by its inmates," the news release reads.
This multi-year Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation is being conducted by numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS Criminal Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Department of Corrections-Office of Investigations and Compliance as well as other unnamed agencies.
Prosecutors said that the Tennessee Department of Correction had previously sought the assistance of federal law enforcement to address criminal activity occurring within the prison system.