A federal grand jury has indicted 21 defendants, including six members of a single Joplin family, in an alleged conspiracy to import near-pure methamphetamine from Mexico and distribute the drug in Jasper County and beyond.

Gerardo H. Cazares Sr. and his wife, Leticia Cazares, both 51 years old, and their four sons, Jose D. Cazares, 28; Gerardo Cazares Jr., 29; Eric E. Cazares, 30; and Abraham Cazares, 24, are accused, along with 15 others, of conspiring to distribute meth between July 16, 2012, and June 14, 2013.

The others named in a 34-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on July 24 include Joplin residents Gilbert Roland, 49; David Roland, 32; Casey Murray, 19; Charles J. Lee III, 29; James Pickel, 55; Michael Fordyce, 52; Michael Ray Hendrix, 33; Jimmy Don Thompson, 22; Nathan K. Hernandez, 33; Jorge Ercules, 27; Henry Gonzalez, 31; and Hugo Rodriguez, 41.

Also named in the indictments were Daniel Nevarez, 27, a son-in-law of Gerardo Cazares Sr. who lives in Carl Junction; Gabrielle Sharp, 20, of Springfield; and Jose Puente, 41, of Commerce, Okla.

Besides the conspiracy charges, Gerardo Cazares Sr., Gerardo Cazares Jr., Jose Cazares, Hendrix, Pickel, Ercules and Gonzalez are charged in 22 counts related to distribution of meth. Gerardo Cazares Sr., Gerardo Cazares Jr., Jose Cazares, Eric Cazares, Leticia Cazares, Hendrix, Pickel, Sharp, Thompson, Hernandez, Rodriguez and Lee also face 11 counts related to use of a telephone in the drug trafficking effort.

Leticia Cazares is a citizen of Mexico and a permanent legal resident of the U.S., according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri. Ercules is a Honduran national, and Gonzalez and Rodriguez are Mexican nationals, according to the federal prosecutor’s office.

An affidavit written by an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration states that the charges are the result of an investigation that began in June 2012 when a significant increase in the availability of meth in Joplin was noted by police, the Jasper County Drug Task Force, the DEA, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Confidential sources informed Joplin police and the task force that there was a new drug trafficking organization operating in the city that was importing meth from Mexico via Dallas. The product was reported to be exceptionally pure, and was being distributed throughout Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and even as far east as Georgia, after reaching Joplin.

The affidavit indicates that an undercover agent from the Missouri State Highway Patrol was used to begin infiltrating the organization and making buys of meth. Telephone wiretaps were established, and evidence of the alleged conspiracy gradually accrued over the next several months, according to the affidavit.

The investigation focused on the Cazares family, in particular the father, Gerardo Cazares Sr., and his sons Jose Cazares and Gerardo Cazares Jr.

Jose Cazares spent 4 1/2 years on the run before being captured in Brownsville, Texas, in January 2011 and brought back to Missouri to face a charge of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Joshua D. Olson, 30, of Duenweg.

Olson was shot in the head with a .380-caliber handgun the night of July 14, 2006, in the 1600 block of Pearl Avenue in Joplin. He was looking for some wheel rims that had been stolen from him the night that he was killed, and he reportedly confronted Jose and Gerardo Cazares Jr. about the matter before being shot.

Jose Cazares is believed to have been involved in transporting meth to Joplin from Texas while free on bond awaiting trial the past two years, according to the affidavit. The family is known to have contacts in Matamoros, Mexico, where police believe he spent much of his time while a fugitive.

The DEA agent’s affidavit details numerous telephone conversations of Cazares family members and an uncle in Matamoros. The affidavit alleges that the conversations concerned shipment of drugs and money back and forth to Mexico concealed in vehicles.

The indictments replaced federal complaints that were filed in June in federal court in Springfield and ordered sealed at that time.

‘Pure’ meth

A DEA AGENT’S AFFIDAVIT states that 213 grams of “pure” meth were seized from various members of an alleged Joplin drug ring, but the organization commonly dealt in ounces of the drug. There are 28 grams in an ounce.

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