DEA: $1M in Meth Secreted in Candles Seized & Five Arrested

Agustin Zamora-Vega, aka “Julio Cesar,” Orlando Alcantara, Cindy Carrillo, Santos Minjarez, and Jose Luis Gonzalez-Solis, have been arrested for conspiring to distribute over 1,300 pounds of wax candles laced with methamphetamine.

James J. Hunt, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Angel M. Melendez, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the arrests.

The defendants were arrested Wednesday in New Jersey, and were presented Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox.

DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt
DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt

“DEA has seen drugs smuggled in numerous ways:  concealed in puppies, lollipops, furniture, and produce,” said Hunt.

“But secreting a million dollars’ worth of methamphetamine in wax candles of various shapes is shocking.”

“This seizure signifies that drug trafficking organizations are determined to create a stronghold of meth users in the Northeast.”

“Through the good work of SDNY, DEA, HSI and NYPD, this load of methamphetamine was seized before it even hit the streets, thwarting the organization’s plans.”

Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York

“As alleged, the defendants worked to distribute massive quantities of methamphetamine, concealed in wax candles,” said Kim.

“As creative as these defendants were, allegedly hiding dangerous drugs in a common household item, law enforcement was on top of this newest scheme.”

“These individuals allegedly possessed more than half a ton of wax candles that would be melted down and converted into crystal meth, eventually introducing more of these destructive synthetic drugs onto our streets,” added Melendez.

Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York
Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York

“Drug traffickers are always thinking of more creative ways to store and traffic their drugs.”

“But the ever evolving way in which investigations are conducted and information is shared among law enforcement is key to identifying and prosecuting these criminals.”

According to the allegations contained in the complaint charging the five defendants:

In August 2017, law enforcement agents learned that Zamora-Vega was seeking a facility in which he intended to store and convert a large quantity of methamphetamine into crystal form (crystal meth).

After that, on August 17, 2017, an undercover officer (the UC) drove with Zamora-Vega to a warehouse in New Jersey (the NJ Warehouse) that the UC offered to Zamora-Vega to use to store and convert methamphetamine to crystal meth.

Zamora-Vega indicated that he was interested in using the NJ Warehouse for those purposes.

In the days following August 17, 2017, Zamora-Vega indicated to the UC that he was expecting a large shipment of methamphetamine to arrive in the New York area in the coming days, and that he intended to transport the methamphetamine to the NJ Warehouse where he would convert it to crystal meth.

On August 29, 2017, Zamora-Vega told the UC that the methamphetamine had arrived at a facility on Long Island.

Carrillo texted the UC the address of the Long Island facility so that the UC could meet Zamora-Vega and Carrillo there.

Ultimately, however, the UC agreed to meet Zamora-Vega and Carrillo at a hotel in New Jersey where Zamora-Vega and Carrillo had been staying (the NJ Hotel).

When the UC arrived at the NJ Hotel, he met with Zamora-Vega, Carrillo, Alcantara, Minjarez, and Gonzalez-Solis.

While at the NJ Hotel, Zamora-Vega showed the UC that the boxes contained a large quantity of what appeared to be wax candles (the Meth Candles).

Zamora-Vega indicated that the candles actually contained methamphetamine, which could be melted and converted to crystal meth.

Thereafter, all of the defendants travelled from the NJ Hotel to the NJ Warehouse.

Once at the NJ Warehouse, Zamora-Vega, Carrillo, Alcantara, Minjarez, and Gonzalez-Solis all engaged in a discussion with the UC about the fact that the NJ Warehouse would be used to convert the Meth Candles to crystal meth.

The defendants continued to discuss with the UC topics such as how they intended to begin converting the Meth Candles to crystal meth; that they would stay in the NJ

Warehouse until the process was completed; that they would need additional equipment; and that they expected it would take them from August 29, 2017, until September 2, 2017, to complete the process of converting the Meth Candles to crystal meth.

Alcantara stated that two fans, one on each side of the NJ Warehouse, would need to be uncovered before they began converting the Meth Candles to crystal meth.

In response, Gonzalez-Solis stated that only one fan needed to be uncovered, since they would only be converting the Meth Candles to crystal meth in that area of the NJ Warehouse.

Thereafter, Minjarez indicated that he would purchase the necessary supplies.

At that point, Carrillo provided a credit card to Minjarez and told Minjarez to charge to the credit card all items purchased to convert the Meth Candles to crystal meth. Minjarez left the NJ Warehouse.

Shortly thereafter, Zamora-Vega, Alcantara, Minjarez, Gonzalez-Solis and the UC unloaded the boxes containing the Meth Candles.

Zamora-Vega, Carrillo, Alcantara, and Gonzalez-Solis were subsequently placed under arrest.  Minjarez was arrested later at the NJ Hotel.

Agents with the DEA, HSI, and NYPD recovered from the NJ Warehouse approximately 27 cardboard boxes each containing a large number of candles, with an aggregate weight in excess of 1,300 pounds.

A field test of one of the Meth Candles revealed that the Meth Candle contained a detectable amount of methamphetamine.

Zamora-Vega, aka “Julio Cesar,” 30, Alcantara, 33, Carrillo, 27, Minjarez, 26, and Gonzalez-Solis, 28, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams and more of mixtures and substances containing methamphetamine.

This charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.

The statutory maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Kim praised DEA, HSI, and the NYPD for their outstanding work on the investigation. He added that the investigation is continuing.

DEA banner

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Rebold and Danielle Sassoon are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.