OKLAHOMA CITY -- Seventeen people in the metro are facing federal drug trafficking charges as part of a nationwide sting.
All of the suspects are believed to be illegal immigrants from Mexico, who are accused of smuggling drugs into the United States from south of the border.
Tuesday afternoon, 10 of the 17 suspects were arraigned before a Federal Magistrate in downtown Oklahoma City. Those charges for each suspect include conspiracy to distribute and possession of methamphetamine. The government is charging the Mexican Nationals with possessing as much as 500 grams.
Arrests were made throughout the metro Tuesday at businesses and homes where federal agents say large amounts meth were being pushed to the streets. Nine of the 17 foreign nationals are charged with intent to distribute 50 grams of meth. Eight are being accused of dealing with 500 grams of meth.
Court documents claim the government knew about the drug trafficking as early as November of 2010. That's when federal agents in Topeka, Kansas tipped off agents in OKC. An undercover operation involving multiple federal agencies, including the DEA and ICE (the Immigration Customs Enforcement) spied on the foreign nationals to uncover the apparent scheme.
The government says the suspects can be heard speaking in code about drug transactions in tapped telephone conversations. A criminal complaint record quotes the suspects in one of the conversations using the words avocado and spark plug, which the government believes are codes for meth.
In all, News 9 is told 14 homes and businesses were targeted in the drug raids and arrests.
If found guilty, the suspects could face anywhere from 5 years to life in prison.
Federal Magistrate Gary Purcell upheld the prosecution's request to hold all of the suspects in federal custody. He also set preliminary hearing dates for late in the week of June 10.