Six people arrested in Smith County last week on drug trafficking, illegal gambling and money laundering charges have ties to a Mexican drug cartel, according to Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith.
He said the arrests were a result of a yearlong investigation that involved multiple local, state and federal agencies and the cooperation of a former Smith County deputy arrested last year on drug-related charges.
U.S. Attorney John M. Bales said last week that a combined task force of federal, state and local law enforcement executed six federal arrest warrants and four federal search warrants in the Tyler and Gladewater areas as a result of a joint investigation by the FBI, Smith County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Texas Racing Commission, according to a news release.
Bales said the operation resulted in the arrest of all six defendants and the seizure of more than $30,000 in cash, methamphetamine and firearms.
The following defendants were arrested and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge K. Nicole Mitchell on charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, prohibition of illegal gambling businesses and conspiracy to money launder:
Omar Bonifacio Bonilla, 32, aka “Pelon,” Renault Lansing Kay, 47, aka “Nault Pete” or “Chocolate;” Jessica Maria Bonilla, 31; Joel Orlando Bonilla-Loya, 36; Guillermo Rivera-Bonilla, 58; and Sheena Shavette Perry, 31, all of Tyler.
If convicted, the defendants face as much as life in federal prison.
Smith said the path to these arrests started in March 2013 when the sheriff’s office received information that one of its deputies was selling crack cocaine and methamphetamines while on duty. That deputy was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of more than 50 grams of methamphetamine and less than 28 grams of crack cocaine.
He was sentenced to 72 months in federal prison.
This deputy cooperated with the FBI and the Smith County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit in the investigation, Smith said.
Investigators were able to take information received from him along with many other sources to build a case that culminated with last week’s arrests.
Smith said the arrests are by no means the end of the case because there are people above those arrested who are still working the illegal drug market. However, this will make a dent.
“I’m not (going to) sit here and tell you that … it’s going to clear up all the methamphetamine in Smith County,” he said. “It’s not, but it is (going to) take care of a big part of it and what we have to be ready for is somebody will be moved in to pick up where they left off and we just have to be vigilant and again keep working together with … our state, local and federal counterparts to make sure that we’re ready to go to the next level.”
Homeland Security-Deportation and Removal Operations, Tyler Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety also assisted in the arrests and searches.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Coan and Richard Moore are prosecuting the case.