Two more suspects in regional drug trafficking case appear in court

By Emily Fitzgerald /

Two other suspects in a drug trafficking case linked to a family operation in Fresno, Calif., have appeared in Lewis County Superior Court.

Juan Tolentino-Chino, 33, and Hernestina Venegas-Gatica, 45, both of Astoria, Oregon, were jailed at the Lewis County Jail on May 17 and appeared before Judge Joely Yeager for preliminary hearings the next day.

Yeager elected to uphold the $250,000 bail amounts that were set by another judge in the suspects’ respective arrest warrants.

Tolentino-Chino is facing one count of Methamphetamine Delivery and Venegas-Gatica is facing one count of Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Manufacture or Deliver.

Tolentino-Chino and Venegas-Gatica are two of six subjects arrested for drug trafficking crimes earlier this month as part of a Joint Counter-Narcotics Team (JNET) investigation into a drug trafficking organization. drug dealing illegal drugs from Fresno, California in the Pacific Northwest.

The investigation built on previous investigations completed in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019 into a family drug operation referred to in court documents as “Venegas DTO”.

“During this investigation, several members of this organization were observed selling large quantities of methamphetamine to customers in Lewis, Thurston, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor and Pierce counties,” according to a JNET press release.

Search warrants were executed in Centralia and Lakewood, as well as Fresno, California, and Astoria, Oregon on May 11.

Three of the subjects arrested – Jesus Venegas-Gatica, 35, of Lakewood; Cristobal Venegas-Diaz, 47, of Centralia; and Cutberto Hernandez-Gatica, 32, of Fresno — had their preliminary appearances in Lewis County Superior Court on Friday, May 13. They have since pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The remaining suspect, Jose Venegas-Gatica, 34, of Rochester, has yet to appear in court. He was not being held in the Lewis County Jail Friday afternoon.

In addition to the drug trafficking charges stemming from this case, Jesus Venegas-Gatica has also been detained in connection with a methamphetamine delivery case since October 2012. Jesus Venegas-Gatica is accused of giving a pseudonym – Chago Castillo — to officers who pulled him over for speeding on Oct. 23, 2012. Officers later found more than 15.4 pounds of methamphetamine inside his vehicle, according to court documents.

Charges against “Chago Castillo” were filed on January 24, 2013, and there was a $100,000 warrant for the arrest of “Chago Castillo” for nine years. Jesus Venegas-Gatica allegedly admitted to using “Chago Castillo” as a pseudonym after being taken into custody in connection with the JNET investigation, according to Yeager.

JNET’s investigation is ongoing as other suspects are identified, according to JNET.

Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to call JNET Detective Sergeant Tracy Murphy at 360-330-7614.

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