Law enforcement agencies have been unable to account for thousands of dollars in cash seized during an April 3 drug bust in Wenatchee.
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett announced Thursday that an outside law enforcement agency, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, will review “possible errors in handling evidence” related to the bust, which also involved the seizure of guns and cocaine.
According to court records, investigators found $85,788 in cash in the home of 52-year-old Cesar J. Mora, also known as “El Becerro,” after a raid on April 3. But according to a news release from the sheriff’s office, “evidence packaged was found to be closer to $68,000.”
That’s a difference of roughly $18,000.
“If policies and procedures were not followed during the processing of the scene, it is extremely important we find and correct those types of errors as soon as possible,” Burnett said in the news release.
The investigation that led to the seizures involved numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
It was led by the Columbia River Drug Task Force, which includes detectives from the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, the Wenatchee Police Department, the East Wenatchee Police Department and the Washington State Patrol.
Burnett, who chairs the task force’s executive board, said those investigators were assisted by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Homeland Security Investigations and the Grant County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team.
According to court records, the investigation took a significant turn on Valentine’s Day, when a confidential informant bought “uno chicken” – code for 1 ounce of cocaine – from 55-year-old Jose C. Valadez.
Valadez has a son, Alejandro Valadez-Mariscal, also known as “Bundy,” who in 2015 pleaded guilty to charges of methamphetamine and illicit gun possession in Chelan County. He was deported after serving a brief jail sentence but later re-entered the country illegally.
A Drug Enforcement Agency investigation beginning in 2017 found the elder Valadez had provided “large quantities of heroin” to his son to traffic from Wenatchee to Idaho, according to court records.
Valadez-Mariscal was arrested in Nampa in August 2017 and pleaded guilty to drug-trafficking conspiracy. The 30-year-old is serving a state prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Recently, after investigators stuck a GPS tracker on his SUV, the elder Valadez inadvertently led them to a large property along the Malaga Alcoa Highway, which Mora purchased from another alleged drug runner in 2010.
Investigators determined it was likely that Mora was using the property as a “stash house” or was supplying Valadez with cocaine to sell. Mora has lived in the Wenatchee area for 20 years and has no prior criminal record, but Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, determined he’s in the country illegally.
During the April 3 raid, Mora showed agents a large plastic-wrapped brick of cocaine hidden under the passenger seat of a broken-down pickup truck, according to court records.
Although Mora has not reported any legal earnings since 2012, investigators also found the nearly $86,000 in cash, bank accounts totaling more than $36,000 and financial records showing a number of large wire transfers, according to court records. Mora claimed he earned money by selling livestock and did not sell drugs for a living.
Mora is charged with cocaine possession with intent to deliver, as well as illicit firearm possession. He and Valadez remained in jail in Chelan County on Thursday. Another man arrested during the raid, Rene Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 54, was charged with illicit gun possession and released on his own recognizance.
It’s unclear whether the concerns about evidence handling will have any bearing on the drug cases.
A message left for Mora’s attorney, Victor Ro, was not returned Thursday. Burnett did not respond to a message seeking additional comment. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.