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Operation Rocky Bear Paw leads to $163,500 in forfeitures, multiple sentences

 

November 13, 2019



From U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern District of Washington

Editor’s note: This version clarifies that Tri-Agency Task Force was the lead investigator in the operation.

SPOKANE — The dismantling of a regional drug trafficking organization that operated in Washington, Idaho and Montana and led to the Havre-based drug task force receiving national recognition led to the award last week of $163,500 in asset forfeiture equitable sharing funds to the City of Yakima Police Department and the Law Enforcement Against Drugs Task Force — LEAD — United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington William D. Hyslop announced Friday.

The investigation also led to sentences for multiple people in north-central Montana.

Tri-Agency Task Force, the lead investigator in the case, received the Outstanding Enforcement Prevention Treatments Efforts on Tribal Land Award in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

The task force also found information linking the local drug deals to Rafael Cervantes in Yakima.

Hyslop presented $81,783.50 to each law enforcement agency to be used for further law enforcement purposes.

The asset forfeiture funds are the result of Operation Rocky Bear Paw, which targeted a regional drug trafficking organization operating in Washington, Idaho and Montana. The principal drug distribution activities occurred in the Grandview and Havre, Montana, areas.

“Operation Rocky Bear Paw exemplifies the positive crime fighting results that can be achieved when federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies collaborate and work together,” Hyslop said. “Our citizens are safer and our communities are more secure as a result of joint law enforcement like what occurred here. The LEAD Task Force assisted with drug buys, provided surveillance during a wiretap and helped execute a search warrant; the City of Yakima Police Department assisted with wiretap surveillance and the execution of search warrants.

Hyslop further said, “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington remains steadfast in its commitment to dismantling drug trafficking organizations that may operate in Eastern Washington. Each of these law enforcement agencies were critical to the success of removing the Cervantes drug trafficking organization from Yakima County and we thank them for their assistance.”

The drug trafficking organization was the main supplier of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana to the Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations in Montana. The investigation and law enforcement action began in 2015, with indictments issued and defendants arrested in 2016. The last of 11 defendants was sentenced in late 2018, and the final assets forfeited were liquidated in 2019. All of the defendants were prosecuted in Washington.

The defendants were:

1. Rafael Cervantes — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Leader and organizer, main source of supply. Sentenced to a 121-month term of prison to run consecutive to a 24-month term of prison on an unrelated supervised release violation, to be followed by a 5-year term of court supervision.

2. Erica Godinez — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Yakima-area distributor. Sentenced to a 48-month term of prison, to be followed by a 5-year term of court supervision.

3. Thomas Harold Parisian — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 60-month term of prison, to be followed by a 5-year term of court supervision.

4. Christopher Paul Parisian — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 108-month term of prison, to be followed by a 4-year term of court supervision.

5. Lawrence Wade Russette — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 72-month term of prison, to be followed by a 4-year term of court supervision.

6. Georgie Elaine Russell — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 60-month term of prison, to be followed by a 5-year term of court supervision.

7. Tyson James Courchane — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 30-month term of prison, to be followed by a 4-year term of court supervision.

8. Leslee Faye Parisian — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 48-month term of prison, to be followed by a 3-year term of court supervision.

9. Adam David Ketchum — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 36-month term of prison, to be followed by a 3-year term of court supervision.

10. Jacob Chad Parker — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 30-month term of prison, to be followed by a 4-year term of court supervision.

11. Kristina Dawn Russette — conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

Montana distributor. Sentenced to a 30-month term of prison, to be followed by a 3-year term of court supervision.

The name Operation Rocky Bear Paw is a combination of the name for the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation where the Cervantes regional drug trafficking organization — DTO — trafficked and sold illegal drugs, and the Bear Paw Mountains which run through the Reservation.

Operation Rocky Bear Paw resulted in the successful prosecution of eleven members of the Cervantes DTO. As part of the investigation, law enforcement officers seized 10 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, $10,338.00 in U.S. currency, two firearms and numerous rounds of ammunition from defendant Rafael Cervantes’ residence in Grandview.

The United States forfeited and sold Cervantes’ Yakima County residence because it facilitated the DTO and was purchased with drug proceeds.

Pursuant to applicable regulations, an 80 percent share of the forfeiture proceeds from the sale of Cervantes’ residence are being shared with the Yakima Police Department and LEAD in recognition of their significant contributions to the Operation. The shared asset forfeiture funds will assist these agencies in their further crime-fighting efforts.

The Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program is a law enforcement program. It removes the tools of crime from criminal organizations, deprives wrongdoers of the proceeds of their crimes, recovers property that may be used to compensate victims and deters crime. The Department of Justice underscores these law enforcement purposes with all federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.

The enforcement action resulting in this forfeiture was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation. The OCDETF program provides supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved in the investigation of drug-related crimes. This OCDETF investigation was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Operation Rocky Bear Paw was a significant and successful joint law enforcement effort. The operation received a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area award from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for Outstanding Enforcement, Prevention or Treatment Effort on Tribal Lands. The HIDTA Program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug trafficking regions of the United States.

The case was investigated and assisted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Yakima Resident Office and Billings Resident Office; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; U.S. Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; LEAD Task Force; City of Yakima Police Department; State of Washington Gambling Commission; Rocky Boy’s Indian Nation Police Department, and Montana Highway Patrol. This case was prosecuted by Benjamin D. Seal and Brian M. Donovan, assistant U.S. attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.

 

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