The recent arrest of two California residents who were extradited to Tyler is the latest development in a felony drug and money laundering operation that officials say involves at least 11 suspects and more than $150,000 in cash and marijuana. 

The case links people from California and East Texas to a scheme that involved mailing large amounts of marijuana from California to Tyler.

At least eight suspects have been booked into the Smith County jail since July 18. It is not clear if the three other suspects have been arrested by other agencies. 

The scheme came to light in February 2016 after Tyler Police Department detectives and Department of Public Safety investigators discovered large amounts of marijuana were being shipped through the mail to a residence in the 6100 block of Rhones Quarter Road.

U. S. Postal records indicated over 25 parcels believed to contain almost 65 pounds of marijuana had been shipped to the Tyler home from California between October 2015 and March 2016. 

Authorities were able to intercept two packages and make the first arrests in the felony possession and distribution case on April 26, 2016. 

Further investigation led detectives to bank accounts in Tyler where thousands of dollars in cash was deposited and subsequently withdrawn through electronic transfers to accounts in California. Fake business accounts also were used to funnel money. Accounts also were set up in California, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tyler, according to the affidavit. 

Cristian Adrian Cervantes, 20, and Manuel Isaias Zuniga, 20, both of Tyler were arrested on April 26, 2016, after they left the home with the packages suspected of containing over 4 pounds of marijuana. They were booked into the Smith County jail on April 26 and released on a surety bond the same day, according to jail records. 

Authorities executed a search warrant for the house and found over a pound of marijuana, 28 grams of cannabinol and 80 Xanax tablets. The two men admitted to distributing the drugs and depositing money into several accounts in Tyler. 

Cell phone records and postal records indicated 17 parcels from California also were sent to Cervantes and Cesar Alexander Lopez, 30, of Tyler, to a residence in the 2200 block of Martin Lane and another residence in the 10200 block of County Road 2254 in Tyler. From the beginning of March 2016 to mid-April 2016 over 60 pounds of marijuana was sent to these homes. 

A search warrant of these homes was executed and authorities discovered over $7,000 in cash, almost 6.5 pounds of marijuana and almost 2,000 Xanax tablets. 

Authorities linked bank accounts in California showing hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash deposited through the operation.  

Investigation of banking activities revealed a Tyler man, Josue Talvera, 29, depositing large amounts of cash into a suspect account. On one occasion, Talvera was seen taking over $6,000 in cash from a backpack and handing it to a teller at a bank on Grande Avenue, according to the affidavit. The complaint said other photographs showed Talvera depositing over $8,000 in cash to an account associated with the drug selling operation.

Cervantes is accused of depositing large amounts of cash from the operation into a bank account belonging to Benjamin Castellanos, 28, of Perris, California, and another account belonging to Jason Lawrence Riddle, 35, of Long Beach, California, according to the affidavit. 

California authorities arrested Hai Thanh Do and Cynthia Karina Rodriguez on outstanding warrants from Smith County. The two were extradited to Tyler and booked into the Smith County jail on Friday. 

Those arrested, booked into the Smith County jail and charged with engaging in organized criminal activity include: 

• Manuel Isaias Zuniga, 20, of Tyler, was arrested on July 18 and was held on a $750,000 bond. 

• Cristian Adrian Cervantes, 20, of Tyler, was arrested on July 19 and was held on a $25,000 bond.

• Cesar Alexander Lopez, 30, of Tyler, was arrested on Aug. 2 and was held on $750,000 bond.

• Josue Talavera, 29, of Tyler, was arrested on Aug. 2 and was held on a $750,000 bond. 

• Jason Lawrence Riddle, 35, of Long Beach, California, was booked into the Smith County jail on Aug. 2 and was held on a $750,000 bond.

• Benjamin Castellanos, 39, of Perris, California was booked into the Smith County jail on Aug. 2 and was held on a $750,000 bond. 

• Cynthia Karina Rodriguez, 27, of Riverside, California, was booked into the Smith County Jail on Friday and was held on a $3 million bond. 

• Hai Thanh Do, 40, of Santa Ana, California, was booked into the Smith County Jail on Friday and was held on a $3.5 million bond. 

 

TWITTER: @LouAnnCampbell

 

 

 
 

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Crime and Breaking News Reporter

I started working at the Tyler Morning Telegraph in June 2016. I am a retired U.S. Air Force Sr. Master Sergeant. After a 21-year military career, in Security Forces, the military police of the Air Force, I went back to college and studied journalism.