Feds seize drugs, firearms, cash in Westerville with help of local task force

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group

A hotel on South State in Westerville was one of two sites of a federal seizure of drugs and firearms this week, according to a Feb. 5 news release from the city of Westerville. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Ohio announced on Feb. 4 the seizure of more than 72 pounds of cocaine, 30 pounds of heroin, 8 pounds of methamphetamine, nine firearms and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. 

Westerville Division of Police station

Lucio Manuel Munoz, 28, Maximus Alberto Dominguez, 19, and Rene Bernal Gaytan, 22, all of Columbus, were charged by federal criminal complaint and arrested Feb. 3, according to a Feb. 4 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Ohio.

The three are charged with conspiring to distribute and possessing with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, the release said. 

Each defendant faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison if convicted.

The defendants are accused of conducting illicit narcotics operations from the hotel and from a residence on Chesford Road in Columbus, according to court documents.

Law-enforcement officials were conducting surveillance on both locations Feb. 2 and subsequently stopped Dominguez for a traffic stop on Interstate 270. 

A narcotics K-9 unit dog alerted to the presence of drugs, and officers discovered a kilogram-sized bundle of cocaine in the vehicle Dominguez was driving, the release said.

Munoz allegedly attempted to flee the residence on Chesford Road later that evening with bulk amounts of narcotics in his vehicle. 

A traffic stop was initiated on Munoz, but he allegedly failed to yield. 

The release said a vehicle pursuit was initiated and ended in a foot pursuit. 

Munoz was apprehended and officers secured the vehicle he was driving.

 Authorities discovered 30 kilograms of cocaine and 4 kilograms of methamphetamine in the vehicle, the release said. 

Nine firearms and bulk amounts of cash were seized from a subsequent search of the residence.

 An affidavit details that agents also found multiple additional kilograms of narcotics with Gaytan in a room at the hotel. A storage locker also was discovered in Columbus, where a duffel bag of vacuum-sealed bulk currency was found.

Each of the three defendants remains in custody.

The Westerville Division of Police has full-time involvement in the Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force that conducted the operation and investigation. 

Charles Chandler, Westerville police chief, said it’s important for Westerville residents and businesses to understand these types of activities are not limited to the city of Columbus.

“Not only is WPD involved in the day-to-day operations of these investigations through the task force, but this type of drug and weapon trafficking is happening in communities big and small,” he said. “Westerville is no exception. WPD officers are actively working to investigate and aid in the conviction of these crimes.”

Chandler said the main goal of distributing this news to the community is awareness.

“This seizure was significant, and the amount of drugs taken off the street is going to save lives,” he said. “But it’s important to recognize this trafficking is in our community, too. We all have a role, whether it’s law enforcement or talking to your kids about the close-to-home impact.”

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla