A multi-agency drug investigation believed to be the largest in Bartholomew County history has concluded with multiple arrests and police confiscating hundreds of pounds of drugs since 2018.
“For the city police and the sheriff’s office, we’ve never seen anything like this,” Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said Wednesday morning during a news conference called by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana.
The multi-agency investigation, which included the Seymour Police Department and was known as “Operation Columbus Day,” resulted in the arrests of 36 people indicted by a federal grand jury on federal charges, including possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and felon in possession of a firearm.
Twenty-five of those individuals have been convicted and are serving sentences ranging from 12 to 270 months in federal prisons.
In addition, police confiscated:
- 114 lbs. of methamphetamine
- Four pounds of heroin, including fentanyl
- 28 lbs. of marijuana
- 115 firearms
- More than $224,000 in cash
The multi-year investigation targeted a family with the last name of Chavez who lived and operated out of the Columbus area, according to a news release from the office of Acting U.S. Attorney John E. Childress.
Multiple family members and associates used a variety of methods to mostly traffic in methamphetamine but also sold other drugs, Childress said.
During the investigation, agents and officers identified members of a Mexican-based drug trafficking organization who were sending large quantities of methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana to the Columbus and Seymour areas.
Police also learned a large drug network used chemicals obtained from China to make fentanyl in Mexico, said Special Agent in Charge J. Michael Gannon of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
In Indiana alone, investigators found hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl being sold as Oxycodone or Xanax.
“Why are they doing that?” Gannon said. “Because their customers will be much more addicted to fentanyl and keep buying the drugs.”
Myers has long said many local people who bring illegal drugs into the Columbus area to sell often obtain them from Indianapolis and Cincinnati. In this case, most of the heroin was brought in from Cincinnati, he said.
During the investigation, local investigators worked with the DEA in those cities, the sheriff said. At the same time, out-of-town law enforcement officers have come quietly to Bartholomew County to work on their cases, he said.
Twenty-three additional suspects are facing state charges, ranging from possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
That brings the total number of individuals arrested during the nearly four-year investigation to nearly 60, Gannon said.
Operation Columbus Day was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, Childress said. That means the goal of the investigation was to identify, disrupt and dismantle the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and criminal organizations, according to federal officials.
Only five defendants who have been convicted and sentenced for federal firearms, drug or immigration charges were identified during the news conference:
- Jorge Chavez – sentenced to 270 months
- Ivan Chavez-Lozoya – sentenced to 69 months
- Jacklyn Munoz – sentenced to 108 months
- Bryan Miranda-Alvidrez – sentenced to 120 months
- Fernando Lopez-Mendez – sentenced to 120 months and subject to deportation
Court records indicate Chavez is at a high-security prison in Virginia with a release date of March 27, 2037; Munoz is at a medium-security prison in Victoriaville, California, with a release date of Sept. 24, 2025; Miranda-Alvidrez is at Federal Medical Center Fort Worth, an administrative-security prison in Fort Worth, Texas, for inmates with certain medical and mental health issues and has a release date of March 25, 2028; and Lopez-Mendez is at Northlake Correctional Facility, a privately owned medium- and maximum-security prison in Michigan, and has a release date of July 17, 2027.
Most of the suspects arrested during the investigation are from the Bartholomew County area, Gannon said.
When asked whether additional suspects may be taken into custody, Myers said he did not want to get into those details.
Among the 10 individuals who stood with the local, state and federal officials during the press conference was U.S. Postal Inspector team leader DeMarkus Calhoun.
His presence was “an indication that some of the packages were coming through (postal) shipments,” Gannon said.
Agents and officers intercepted multiple parcels, made numerous controlled purchases and conducted about 15 separate searches in the Bartholomew County area, federal officials said.
Elaborate drug trafficking organizations will use any means necessary to get drugs to communities, whether on a person, through buses or in vehicles, Gannon said.
“They will dispatch (the narcotics) to networks that they have throughout the country, and that’s what’s going on here,” he said.
Other agencies involved in the investigation include the Columbus Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service and Homeland Security Investigations.
When a single investigation gets so many agencies to work together, it means the Bartholomew County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team has moved to the next level and now has the resources to go after large-scale illegal narcotics suppliers, the sheriff said.
“We no longer just worry about the street-level dealers,” Myers said. “We’re going after the big fish.”
Formed shortly after Myers first took office in early 2015, the enforcement team is a combined unit of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, Columbus Police Department and Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office that focuses on local and area narcotics investigations. The team also has a full-time deputy who works exclusively with the DEA in Indianapolis.
Law enforcement officials have said in the past illegal drugs are a factor in the majority of crimes being committed in south central Indiana.
“Probably 89% of the crime that we respond to relates back to drugs one way or another,” Columbus Police Chief Mike Richardson said.
But considering the extremely large amount of drugs and firearms that were confiscated, Operation Columbus Day should be considered a big win by all who were involved with it, Gannon said.
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“Our job is to continue this fight against illegal drugs, but we can’t do it alone. We need our citizens to step up. We also need people to recognize individuals who have drug addictions and to try and make a difference in their lives.”
Assistant Special Agent in Charge J. Michael Gannon of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency