L.A. man used ‘trap cars’ to distribute narcotics for drug trafficking ring

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

A Los Angeles man pleaded guilty to leading a drug trafficking ring and distributing narcotics across the U.S.

Joel Antonio Villegas, 35, from South Gate, also known as, “Junior,” led a trafficking ring that imported drugs using modified “trap cars” from Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

From at least November 2017 to September 2019, Villegas transported cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and hashish oil using modified BMW cars with hidden trap compartments.

As the scheme’s organizer and manager, Villegas picked up the drugs and arranged to sell them to customers or other conspirators, officials said.

He told his accomplices to purchase cars and modify them by installing hidden trap compartments so more members could help transport drugs.

He also coordinated cross-border caravans using couriers and other “trap cars” to pick up the drugs in Mexico for transport into the U.S.

Modifications made to “trap cars” used by a drug trafficking ring to transport narcotics from Mexico to the United States. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)Modifications made to “trap cars” used by a drug trafficking ring to transport narcotics from Mexico to the United States. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)Modifications made to “trap cars” used by a drug trafficking ring to transport narcotics from Mexico to the United States. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

He operated a stash house containing cocaine, marijuana, and hashish oil along with materials to manufacture and distribute drugs including packaging materials, pill presses, drug ledgers, and money counters. 

In September 2019, authorities severed a warrant at Villegas’ home. Law enforcement called him on the phone and ordered him to come outside. That’s when Villegas began setting fire to his paper journals, including drug ledgers and pay/owe sheets. 

“He broke several cell phones and other digital devices and attempted to break even more,” court documents said.

As authorities entered his home, multiple firearms were discovered along with $127,307 in cash and jewelry, including three Rolex watches and one golden necklace which were all purchased with drug revenue.

A second search warrant was served at a stash house in Downey. Crews found approximately 882 grams (1.9 pounds) of heroin, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of marijuana, and 81.3 grams of hashish oil, a money counter, a pill press machine and drug paraphernalia.

In total, around 3.9 kilograms (8.6 pounds) of heroin, 52 kilograms (114.6 pounds) of cocaine, 25 kilograms (55.1 pounds) of marijuana, and 186.2 grams of hashish oil were found during the operation.

Villegas pleaded guilty on May 10 to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30 where Villegas could face up to life in prison.

The case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces operation.

Multiple agencies assisted including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the California Highway Patrol, the Pasadena Police Department, the South Gate Police Department, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.