CLEVELAND – Dominic Bangera and his wife, Jacqueline Sanchez, lived in an upscale home in one of Ohio’s richest counties. They loved to drive around in fancy sports cars.
They seemed to stand out in Newbury, a rural section of northeast Ohio. But what many didn’t know, police say, is that the flashy couple was quietly operating one of the biggest drug operations in the county's history – one that may have had ties to a Mexican cartel.
Earlier this week, Geauga County sheriff's deputies drove down a 100-yard driveway off a secluded cul-de-sac to serve a search warrant on what they thought might be a small drug operation. Instead, deputies ended up seizing 6 pounds of pure crystal methamphetamine, 2.2 pounds of black tar heroin, 100 pounds of marijuana, $128,000 in cash and 10 guns, which were loaded and kept in various parts of the house. The drugs had a value of about $1.5 million.
Investigators arrested Bangera and Sanchez, who had been renting the upscale home for several years along with two other men, said Chief Scott Hildenbrand of the Geauga County sheriff's department.
"Everyone's been in shock about the quantity of stuff that was there," Hildenbrand told Fox News Latino. "No one had any idea this was going on, and most people drove past this house every day."
According to Hildenbrand, the case began on June 3 when a deputy sheriff on patrol saw a beat-up truck parked in the middle of a narrow road called Park View Drive. He stopped and asked the people around the truck if anything was wrong. They were being evasive when they told him the truck had broken down and help was on the way.
The deputy left, but stayed in the area. While hiding, he watched someone jump into the truck and drive it to the house, Hildenbrand said. Eight days later, sheriff's deputies came with a warrant and raided the five-bedroom, 2 ½-bath home.
The suspects have been charged with felony possession of drugs with a possibility of more charges for Bangera, 43, and Sanchez, 36. Also charged were Raymond Utt, 36, and Omar Solano-Lopez, 21. Bangera is a British citizen and Solano-Lopez is a Mexican citizen in the U.S. illegally, Hildenbrand said.
Hildenbrand said it was possible the operation was connected to a Mexican cartel because the people living in the house had been traveling back and forth to California. Solano-Lopez recently arrived in Newbury Township from California, Hildenbrand said. Methamphetamine and black-tar heroin are primarily produced in Mexico by the cartels.
Hildenbrand said having their expensive rental house, as well as two luxury cars, is opposite of the myth that dealers try to keep a low profile by living in poor neighborhoods. Newbury Township is about 30 miles east of Cleveland and is Ohio's second-richest per capita.
Utt's attorney declined to comment. An attorney for Sanchez said he had no comment Monday. It's unclear who represents Bangera and Solano-Lopez. Bangera has a criminal record in Ohio for growing marijuana and Sanchez has a fleeing and eluding conviction, Hildenbrand said. Utt does not have a criminal record, but Solano-Lopez has a long rap sheet in California.
When the deputies saw what they had during the raid, they called in members of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force.
"We thought it was a little smaller operation," Hildenbrand said.
According to Hildenbrand, the only other thing that has been seized was a motor home. Geno Corley, resident agent in charge of the Cleveland office of the DEA, declined to comment about the case except to praise the Geauga sheriff's department.
"They did some outstanding work," Corley said.
Includes reporting by the Associated Press.