Family's ties to alleged pot ring detailed

Indictment cites major cash, vehicle holdings; brothers of man killed in SWAT raid sought
2012-06-10T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T16:03:28Z Family's ties to alleged pot ring detailedKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Both brothers of a Tucson man killed during a SWAT raid in 2011 are among five people named in a 29-count indictment alleging they imported and sold at least $4.9 million worth of marijuana between 2005 and the time of the fatal raid.

According to an indictment unsealed Friday in Pima County Superior Court, Alejandro Guerena, 28, and Gerardo Guerena, 24, were indicted March 2 along with Alejandro's wife, Pauline Guerena, his sister-in-law, Denise Ruiz, and his father-in-law, Jose Celaya.

The Guerena brothers have outstanding warrants for their arrest. Ruiz and Pauline Guerena were released from jail to the county's Pretrial Services agency, and Celaya posted a $50,000 bond.

The group is charged with illegally conducting a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit possession of marijuana for sale, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.

The indictment alleges Jose Guerena and his relatives imported, stashed and sold bulk, wholesale quantities of marijuana to brokers or distributors who would travel to Tucson to buy it at wholesale prices. Handwritten records found at Alejandro Guerena's home documented the sale of at least 10,553 pounds of marijuana for between $475 and $600 per pound.

Jose Guerena, 26, was fatally shot May 5, 2011, by members of the Pima County Regional SWAT team who raided his home and three others simultaneously as part of a drug-trafficking investigation.

Court documents indicate two of the homes were Celaya's, including one he shared with his wife, Graciela, and occasionally some of his co-defendants, including Alejandro and Pauline Guerena and Ruiz.

Nearly $100,000 was found in a shoe box under Alejandro Guerena's bed, court documents indicate. Ledgers, an AK-47, other guns, ammunition, bulletproof vests, a stolen vehicle and marijuana were also seized from Celaya's homes.

Body armor, guns, a rifle, a dozen cellphones and a hat with the U.S. Border Patrol logo were found at Jose Guerena's home.

Court documents indicate the drug-trafficking investigation began in January 2009 after a deputy found a semiautomatic gun and several thousand dollars in cash during a traffic stop of Alejandro Guerena. He was found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon.

In April 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents found more than 1,300 pounds of marijuana at a home on South Sunset Road. The home's electric bill was in Ruiz's name; the water was in Gerardo Guerena's name; and the landlord said Ruiz had rented the home. Alejandro Guerena visited the home several times; Jose Guerena's vehicle was spotted there on occasion; and he was there the day arrests were made. ICE agents listed Jose Guerena as a "person of interest" in their investigation.

The drug investigation was put on the back burner in March 2010 after one of Jose Celaya's five daughters, Cynthia, 34, and her husband, Manuel Orozco, 36, were slain during a home invasion.

The investigation revved up again in April 2011 after deputies were called to one of the Celaya homes. Jose Celaya had received a call from a man named "Stuart" saying there were men with guns on the property. When deputies arrived, they found the doors to the home open, a puddle of blood on the floor and several shell casings, records show. Deputies did not find anyone inside, but they found enough wrappings for one ton of marijuana and a holster next to bloody footprints leading out of the home. "Stuart" has never been found.

The indictment unsealed Friday and other court documents obtained by the Arizona Daily Star reveal:

• Pauline Guerena, Alejandro Guerena, Gerardo Guerena and Graciela Guerena all claimed to earn their living at JC Stables, but JC Stables employed zero employees and earned a minimal amount of money.

• Arizona Department of Economic Security reported zero earnings for Celaya, Alejandro Guerena, Pauline Guerena, Gerardo Guerena and Ruiz.

• Jose Guerena earned $16,000 in 2009 and $54,000 in 2010 at Asarco, but was the registered owner of six vehicles, five of which had a total combined value of more than $100,000.

• Alejandro Guerena deposited nearly $82,000 into a bank account between December 2008 and December 2009 and withdrew $70,000. He told investigators he made his living horse racing, buying and fixing cars and remodeling houses. He also said he received food stamps and AHCCCS, and has never filed an income tax return. Investigators never saw him working on cars.

• Alejandro Guerena was the registered owner of four vehicles, but also told investigators he owned a $39,000 Ford truck registered to Jose Guerena.

• Pauline Guerena took out a $65,000 loan on some undeveloped land in March 2008 and obtained another loan for a 2008 Charger in August 2008. Each time, she put down $5,000 cash.

• Celaya owned two properties with a combined value of $278,000 and was the registered owner of nine vehicles. Seven of the vehicles were valued at nearly $58,000. He told investigators in May 2011 he was not working, could no longer afford his mortgage and received AHCCCS. Investigators found $2,900 cash in a boot box in his closet on May 5, 2011.

• Ruiz earned $3,214 in 2009 and zero in 2010, and was the registered owner of six vehicles valued at nearly $42,000. In July 2010, someone deposited nearly $11,000 into her bank account from Michigan.

• Gerardo Guerena was the registered owner of five vehicles valued at nearly $23,000. He told investigators he lives in Mexico and he buys and sells cars and tends to horses for a living.

• Alejandro Guerena bought six cars at auction on one day in December 2008. On the same day he spent $4,200 at Burberry, a clothing store.

• Alejandro Guerena spent nearly $10,000 at Jared's Jewelry in May 2009.

• The Guerenas frequently bought and traded newer model vehicles with cash from marijuana transactions, investigators say.

Capt. Christopher Nanos, who heads up the sheriff's criminal investigations division, said the investigation into the drug ring is ongoing and charges could be brought against additional people. The investigation into the killing of the Orozcos is also ongoing.

The Guerena brothers cannot be ruled out as suspects in the Orozcos' slayings, Nanos said.

"Our belief is they have more knowledge of that case than what they are sharing with us," Nanos said of the Guerenas, the Celayas and the Orozcos.

While most home invasions involve people demanding drugs and money, the couple's killers made no demands, Nanos said. They simply came into the home, shot the couple and left.

During the course of the drug investigation, statements were made linking both Orozcos to the Guerena/Celaya drug organization, and Manuel Orozco had no reported income during the relevant time frame, Nanos said.

DNA was collected from the scene, and investigators have identified other people of interest and are attempting to find them, Nanos said.

Nanos declined to specify what specific roles each of the Guerenas and Celayas played in the drug organization, including who was the ringleader.

What's clear is Jose Guerena did play a role, Nanos said.

"Although he was a former Marine, it doesn't mean he was out there doing what we expect good Marines to do," Nanos said.

On April 13, the Pima County Attorney's Office began forfeiture proceedings for four homes, five vehicles, $137,000 cash and 11 weapons.

Attorneys for Pauline Guerena and Celaya are fighting the seizure of the property. Celaya's attorney says Jose Celaya and his wife purchased both their homes using proceedings from a wrongful death lawsuit involving their 9-year-old son, Jose Jr., who was killed by a drunken driver in 1995.

Attempts to reach the attorneys for Pauline Guerena, Ruiz and Celaya were unsuccessful.

Christopher Scileppi, who represents Jose Guerena's widow, Vanessa, in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the county, said, "I have reviewed countless indictments during my career, but this is a first," describing the indictment as no more than an attempt "to damage the reputation of a Marine killed in his home by the police."

"There is absolutely no reason to name Jose Guerena in the indictment other than a poorly veiled attempt to disparage him, his wife and children," Scileppi said, adding: "This, after the police barged into their home with apparent little regard or care for human life, shooting wildly with handguns and a high-powered ballistic rifle more than seventy times mere feet away from Mrs. Guerena and their 4-year-old boy."

On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at go.azstarnet.com/courthouse

"Although he was a former Marine, it doesn't mean he was out there doing what we expect good Marines to do."

Pima County sheriff's Capt. Christopher Nanos,

on Jose Guerena, who died in 2011 SWAT raid

Contact reporter Kim Smith at kimsmith@azstarnet.com or 573-4241.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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