SIDNEY — One of three people believed to be involved with a Mexican cartel drug ring pleaded not guilty to a related charge in Shelby County Common Pleas Court, Thursday, Jan. 17.
Two Oregon residents also linked to the alleged crime did not appear for their arraignment.
Local authorities intercepted a kilo of heroin at a local storage facility believed to be placed there by the defendants. Estimated street value of the drug is between $50,000 to $100,000.
On Jan. 10, Claudia E. Matute-Gonzales, 29, 1531 Spruce Ave., was indicted by the Shelby County grand jury on a charge of trafficking in drugs, a first-degree felony. The indictment also listed a specification that Matute-Gonzales be considered a major drug offender.
Matute-Gonzales was jailed prior her arraignment. She was released later the same day when a $50,000 cash bond was posted on her behalf. She is represented by attorney Scott Kelly of Sidney.
Also indicted were co-defendants Phillip R. Romero, 29, and, Maria Star Fragua, 31, both of Salem, Oregon, who did not appear in court. They were also charged with trafficking in drugs, both first-degree felonies, with prosecutors also requesting they be determined major drug offenders.
Warrants have been issued to bring them to the local court.
Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell told the Sidney Daily News the trio rented a local storage unit to put the package of drugs inside. He stated the unit was left unlocked. It was checked by storage personnel as part of the regular steps taken with an unlocked unit. The package was discovered, and police were called.
Sell said the package tested positive for heroin and was confiscated. Authorities unloaded the package, refilling it with rocks to the same approximate weight. While under surveillance at the unit, the package was retrieved and delivered to an alleged drug dealer in Dayton.
The prosecutor believes the drop-off point was part of a drug cartel’s transportation avenue.
Phillips and Fragua are accused of delivering the heroin to the storage unit on Nov. 10, 2018,. Matute-Gonzales is charged with preparing the heroin for distribution on Nov.18.
Future court dates have not been scheduled.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.