It sounds like a scene from “Breaking Bad.”
Longtime drug dealers allegedly sold methamphetamine to a federal snitch in Yuba City fast food parking lots while agents watched and listened nearby.
One suspect was arrested by other officers in the middle of the undercover operation, then released while awaiting sentencing.
Another was a reputed street gang member from Mexico who had repeatedly entered the United States illegally.
This is the scenario described in federal court documents unsealed in Sacramento on Friday in a seven-month investigation of a major meth dealing operation in Yuba City.
During the probe, Drug Enforcement Administration agents orchestrated a series of meth purchases from two longtime drug dealers, court documents say. The dealers used text messages and talked in code, once telling a would-be buyer that they had to “refurbish the cookie jar” or get more drugs before they could make the deal.
The feds used wiretaps, surveillance and a confidential source who made the buys in hopes of winning leniency at sentencing in a separate criminal case.
The source bought meth over the months in a variety of places, once paying $1,700 for a half pound in a Yuba City Home Depot parking lot, court documents say.
Another time a $2,960 buy went down at a Jack-in-the-Box, where one suspect handed over half a pound of meth and an ounce of heroin that he was carrying in a hamburger bag, court documents say.
The case spilled into the open after the arrest of three suspects, who were scheduled to make their first appearances in court in Sacramento on Friday afternoon.
Benjamin Leon Andrade, 51, known as “Benji,” faces two counts of distribution of methamphetamine.
Court documents say he has prior convictions in 1995 and 1997 for manufacturing a controlled substance, and that the 1997 case involved a firearm.
Andrade’s history also includes convictions in 2013 and 2015 for possession of a controlled substance, court papers say.
In the midst of the undercover investigation, Andrade ended up getting arrested for transportation of a controlled substance, then was released pending his scheduled sentencing in Sutter County on Oct. 2, according to an affidavit filed by a DEA agent in the case.
Andrade’s alleged partner was Clinton Allen Cavanagh, 47, who faces a count of distribution of methamphetamine.
Cavanagh has a 1997 conviction for possession of a controlled substance for sale and convictions in 1999, 2002 and 2005 for possession of a controlled substance.
“After Andrade was arrested, Cavanagh appeared to take over for Andrade,” the DEA affidavit states.
Once Andrade was released, the confidential source tried to get a new phone number for him from Cavanagh, but the suspect declined. “I believe that Cavanagh views the CS as a good-paying customer and does not want the CS to return to Andrade …,” the DEA agent wrote.
The operation continued until Thursday, when the buyer arranged with Cavanagh to purchase four pounds of meth for $13,200, court documents say.
Agents set up shop near Cavanagh’s home and followed as he drove to a Jack-in-the-Box parking lot, got out, and started walking around and talking on his cellphone, court records say. After about 20 minutes, he got into a silver Toyota that had pulled into the lot, then got out and met up with the confidential source.
Eventually, they ended up in the parking lot of a closed Kmart store, where the silver Toyota re-appeared and the agents moved in and arrested Cavanagh, court documents say.
They also arrested the Toyota driver, Augustin Guaneros Licona, and found four wrapped plastic bags on the rear floorboards that they believe contained the meth, court documents say. Guaneros has previous convictions for participation in a criminal street gang, manufacture or possession of a dangerous weapon, and a 2012 conviction for re-entering the country after being deported.
Now, he faces new counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and illegal re-entry by an aggravated felon.