Mexican national allegedly led major North Dakota meth ring from jail (2024)

TASHA CARVELLThe Forum

GRAND FORKS — A man who had previously been convicted for illegally entering the United States is now facing federal charges relating to a decades-long drug trafficking operation in North Dakota.

On New Year's Day 2023, a security supervisor at the Sky Dancer Casino on North Dakota's Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation contacted authorities after a man tried to cash in on nearly $5,000 in winnings but didn't have a Social Security number, which is required for collecting certain large amounts.

Border Patrol agents checked the name and quickly determined that the man, Fidel Arenas-Torres, was a Mexican national who had been arrested and sentenced for murders and kidnapping in his home country in 2013.

Arenas-Torres, who also goes by the nickname "El Pelón," was taken into custody and eventually admitted that he was in the United States illegally.

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During the subsequent court proceeding in the case, Arenas-Torres claimed he had been in the U.S. because he was trying to escape being targeted and tortured in Mexico.

In August 2023, Arenas-Torres was sentenced to two years in federal prison for illegally entering the country.

Earlier this month, Arenas-Torres' name appeared in the federal docket yet again, this time as a defendant in the drug case.

On June 6, he and four others were indicted, accused of running a drug trafficking ring and being the primary source behind hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine flowing into North Dakota over a period of many years, primarily to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. The indictment was unsealed on June 27.

The case came as the result of an FBI investigation into the conspiracy, which court documents show came about partially as the result of a deal made with an inmate in the Grand Forks County jail, who cooperated by providing information about the individuals running the drug ring and their roles in it.

Meth hidden in livestock feed bags

The FBI's investigation led to the surveillance of phone numbers and vehicles associated with a Belcourt man, Timothy Houle, and his wife, Trina Falcon, after the cooperating Grand Forks inmate told investigators that Houle was his source for meth and a primary supplier of the drug on the Turtle Mountain reservation.

A traffic stop in November of a car Houle was driving with Falcon as a passenger resulted in law enforcement finding 44 packages of meth concealed in two livestock feed bags. The drugs weighed 50 pounds and were estimated to carry a street value of $250,000. Houle was arrested after the stop and sentenced to eight years in prison.

While he was being questioned, Houle told investigators that the source of his meth supply was "Pelón," Arenas-Torres' nickname. He was shown a photo of Arenas-Torres and positively identified him as his supplier.

Houle told investigators he had known Arenas-Torres since 1999 and had been getting between 2-5 pounds of meth a month from him during that time. Houle said he started distributing meth for Arenas-Torres after Arenas-Torres' casino arrest and because Houle owed Arenas-Torres hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Houle said he had been communicating with Arenas-Torres through Diana Quezada, who lives in Minnesota and is Arenas-Torres' wife or girlfriend.

Investigators said they then began to monitor frequent jail calls between Quezada and Arenas-Torres, which yielded evidence of coded communication about suspected illegal drug activity. Court documents show Quezada would frequently reach out to Houle or Falcon immediately following a call from Arenas-Torres to discuss meet-ups for drugs and money collection. Quezada would also invoke Arenas-Torres' name as leverage if they wouldn't call her back.

Claims of cartel torture and Mexican government corruption

Arenas-Torres claimed during his immigration violation proceedings that Edgar Veytia, the attorney general of the Mexican state of Nayarit, had him kidnapped and arrested on the false charges after Arenas-Torres refused to work for the H-2 cartel.

H-2 is based in Nayarit and Sinaloa, Mexico, with distribution cells across the U.S., including in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

An article from El Sol, a newspaper in the Mexican state of Nayarit, reported Arenas-Torres was arrested for two murders there in December 2012 as well as for his involvement in a shrimp trader’s kidnapping the following month. The article said Arenas-Torres was linked to a criminal gang and known to Mexican authorities as “El Pelón.”

Arenas-Torres claimed he and his family were victims of H-2 and a corrupt government official. He said he was tortured while he awaited trial. He claimed his scars were from prison guards electrocuting him, trying cut off his ear, and tasing him at the bidding of the cartel and Veytia. He said his family was forced to pay $100,000 to the cartel in return for their safety.

Government prosecutors acknowledged that at least part of Arenas-Torres’ story was true.

In 2019, Veytia was tried in federal court in New York and sentenced to 20 years’ in prison for his participation in an international drug trafficking ring. An investigation found that Veytia had used his position to get members of the violent H-2 cartel released from prison, instructed law enforcement to target rival drug traffickers for wiretaps and arrests, and assisted H-2 in carrying out and covering up murders and other acts of violence.

Court documents showed Arenas-Torres had previously been deported from the U.S. after felony arrests twice — once for drugs in 2000 in Arizona and again in 2011 for using a fake ID in Utah.

'Hundreds of pounds' of meth and 'large sums of money'

A motion for detention made in Minnesota for Quezada said the case involved "the distribution of hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine into the District of North Dakota, and her role in moving large sums of money in connection with that distribution, with a majority of the methamphetamine destined for the Turtle Mountain Reservation."

Quezada, Arenas-Torres, Houle, Falcon and another man, Monte Hoover, are all charged in the case. All five are implicated in the distribution conspiracy charges, which the indictment dates back to 2018.

Hoover is accused of maintaining a shop or garage space in Rolette County for the purposes of distributing the drugs.

Arenas-Torres and Quezada also face money laundering charges.

A hearing is scheduled for Arenas-Torres to appear on the drug charges on Aug. 1.

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Mexican national allegedly led major North Dakota meth ring from jail (2024)
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