16 charged in Arkansas cocaine conspiracy, including Mexican drug cartel members

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Sixteen defendants spanning state and even national borders face federal drug charges for $10 million worth of cocaine trafficked into Arkansas.

The indictment came from a large-scale investigation called "Operation: Dirty Bird" that looked into cocaine and narcotics trafficking from Mexico to Arkansas. The lead defendant, Idalia Ramos Rangel, is a high-ranking member of the Gulf Cartel who directs a drug trafficking organization based in Matamoros, Mexico, which distributes several hundreds of kilograms of cocaine in the United States - including 100 kilograms right here in Arkansas.

All 16 defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. If convicted, each will face 10 years to life in prison.

"The arrests made in this case have dismantled a primary supply of cocaine into the Stateof Arkansas," said Christopher Thyer, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. "From the Gulf Cartel to prison to the streets of Central Arkansas, this was not a typical case to investigate."

Authorities say Rangel, also known as "La Tia" or "Big Momma," and her family recruited inmates in the US prison system - including the Federal Correctional Complex at Forrest City - to distribute kilogram and multi-ounce quantities of cocaine in Central Arkansas when they got out of prison.

Two of Rangel's sons and one of her daughters are charged as part of the conspiracy. The full list of defendants listed in the indictment is below:

  • Idalia Ramoz Rangel, 57, Matamoros, Mexico
  • Mohammed Kazam Martinez, 31, Beaumount, Texas
  • Emanuel Ilo, 34, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Mervin Johnson, 37, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Homar Martinez, 31, Brownsville, Texas
  • Manuel Garza, 31, Brownsville, Texas
  • Jaime Benevides, 27, Austin, Texas
  • Nishme Martinez, 26, Austin, Texas
  • Denice Duran Martinez, 34, Brownsville, Texas
  • Yadira Anahy Martinez, 36, Brownsville, Texas
  • Dwatney Noid, 30, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Dwight McLittle, 27, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Shanieka Tatum, 35, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Lamont Williams, 34, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Gerard Trice, 29, Little Rock, Ark.
  • Tarvars Honorable, 33, Little Rock, Ark.

Rangel, Johnson, Garza, Noid & Trice have not been arrested yet.

The Gulf Cartel is believed to be responsible for upwards of one-third of all cocaine trafficked into the United States.

The 25-count indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury on May 2 but wasn't unsealed until Tuesday. Click here to see the indictment.

KATV's Jason Pederson has been following this story. Tune in tonight to Channel 7 News at 6:00 for more on the case.