Throughout underworld history, people have run illegal operations from behind bars. Due to their resourcefulness, inmates can call shots on the outside and rake in profits. The authorities usually shut these operations down after a while, but that doesn’t stop folks from trying. On Friday (July 15), 21 defendants involved in an Oklahoma drug ring were convicted for such an operation on charges of drug distribution, drug conspiracy, money laundering, maintaining drug-involved premises and illegal firearms possession. “This case demonstrates just how dangerous and determined some criminals can be,” said Wade Gourley, Oklahoma City Police Department Chief.
The operation was headed by two inmates in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Using contraband cell phones, inmates Todd Mathew Strand and Hugo Gonzalez, Jr. ran a statewide methamphetamine and heroin ring since 2017. Strand was already serving a 30-year state sentence for prior drug trafficking activity at the Carter County OK Jail in Ardmore, OK. According to court records, Strand and Gonzalez obtained meth from sources in Texas and Oklahoma for distribution in Oklahoma City and beyond.
Strand and Gonzalez had a team on the outside, which included men and women. The drug ring included Patti Renee Melton, Todd Allen Willis, Jennifer Ann Brady, Andy Joe Hodges, Ashley Marie Endecott, Ashley Nicole Norman, Kenneth William Mitchell, Heather Marie Cortez and Teresa Salazar. These individuals were responsible for collecting the drugs, storing them, distributing them and collecting payments.
Using their illicit phones, Strand and Gonzalez would communicate with their squad via text messages, Facebook messenger and calls. Once the drugs arrived in Oklahoma City, Melton, Willis, Brady, Norman, Mitchell, Cortez, Salazar and others would store, maintain and distribute them. Melton and Willis held houses and storage units as stash spots where drugs, money and firearms would be stored. Stash houses were located in Norman, OK and Oklahoma City. That duo, along with Norman and Cortez, would scoop up portions of the meth hauls to sling them and simultaneously deliver money or guns as payment. Melton, for instance, used local hotels as distribution hubs. Brady, Hodges, Norman and Mitchell would take the meth to other Oklahoma locales such as Spiro, Idabel and Ada for distribution.
Strand and Gonzalez would communicate further instructions on where to send the money or firearms collected. Cash was dispensed to the incarcerated masterminds through Green Dot, PayPal and other methods. Money was also sent to locations in bulk shipments through the United States Postal Service and wire transfers of hundreds of dollars apiece to individuals in Chihuahua, Mexico, to pay debts or secure product. The delivery of firearms across the border was also orchestrated.
On top of that, according to reports, Strand also “ordered acts of violence, including acts against his own associates, during the course of the conspiracy.”
Over the past three years, a joint investigation into this drug ring was performed by the DEA with assistance from the Oklahoma City Police Department, the IRS Criminal Investigative Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Sallisaw Police Department, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, the Moore Police Department, the Edmond Police Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized 46 pounds of methamphetamine and heroin, more than 50 firearms and $35,000 in proceeds.
Ultimately, Strand was sentenced to an additional 32 years, and Gonzalez got 22 years, both federal sentences. Other conspirators were hit with a range of three to 16 years in prison. In all, the 21 defendants will be serving 187 years collectively.
“This sprawling drug trafficking operation was primarily operated by inmates using contraband cell phones from inside state prison walls,” said United States Attorney Robert J. Troester. “Thanks to the dedicated work and coordinated efforts of law enforcement, this drug trafficking network was stopped, and 21 defendants will collectively serve more than 18 decades in prison. I commend each of our law enforcement partners who worked together with prosecutors to achieve this outstanding result.”