Throughout the past few weeks, special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have arrested nine individuals in the Amarillo area on various felony drug charges in recently unsealed federal criminal complaints, according to U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
On Thursday afternoon, defendants Jose “Junior” Fernandez, 36; Aaron Fernandez, 26; and Thomas Joseph Salazar, 23, appeared before Magistrate Judge Clinton E. Averitte and were ordered to be detained pending further court proceedings.
Each is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, including cocaine and methamphetamine. Another defendant charged in that complaint with the same offense, Francisco “Frank” Fernandez, 43, appeared yesterday before Magistrate Averitte and was also ordered to be detained.
Defendant Amy Fernandez, 43, who is the wife of Frank Fernandez, also appeared in court on Thursday. She has been charged with a separate complaint with structuring, or attempting to structure, a financial transaction. She was ordered detained pending further hearings.
Four additional defendants charged in separate criminal complaints with methamphetamine-distribution offenses have also been ordered to be detained. Dustin Engler, 25, made an initial appearance before Judge Averitte yesterday morning. Co-conspirator Raphael Garcia, Jr., 36, appeared last Friday, and separate defendants Leonard Anthony Scott, 47, and Tomar Embers, 38, appeared before Judge Averitte following their arrests last week.
A federal criminal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offenses charged, and must be made under oath before a magistrate judge. A defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The U.S. Attorney's office has 30 days to present the matters to a grand jury for indictment.
The maximum statutory penalty for the structuring offense is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, if the violation happened in conjunction with another violation of federal law or as part of a pattern of any illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a twelve-month period, the maximum penalty is ten years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Each defendant charged with a narcotics offense faces a maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment and up to a $10 million fine.
The ongoing investigation is being led by the DEA with assistance from several agencies including the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (Criminal Investigation), the U.S. Marshals Service, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Amarillo Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Schall is in charge of the prosecution.