A federal grand jury has returned a drug and money laundering indictment against six people in connection with an investigation that spanned Mason City, Waterloo and other Iowa communities.
The government is seeking forfeiture for a rural Gladbrook home as well as $350,000 in cash.
The indictment charges Michael Pineda, Samuel Arias, Brandon Neil Harders, Robert Lewis and Jeffery “Slim” Westberg with conspiracy to distribute meth.
Janeth Pineda, Michael Pineda and Arias are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, and Harders, 44, of Lincoln, formerly of Waterloo and Gladbrook, is also charged with possession of meth with intent to distribute in connection with a Sept. 9, 2016, incident.
The Pinedas are married and live in Chula Vista, California, and Arias is Michael Pineda’s stepfather and lives in Tijuana, Mexico, according to court records.
The seven-page indictment was returned on Nov. 15 but it remained sealed until Wednesday after Waterloo police and Tri-County drug investigators arrested Harders and Westberg. Westburg appeared in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, and Harders appeared on Wednesday. Both pleaded not guilty.
Agents with the Department of Homeland Security arrested Michael Pineda, Janeth Pineda and Arias in California on Monday as Arias was attempting to enter Mexico, court records state.
Michael Pineda, who operates an automobile accessories business, was in custody in California with bond set at $30,000 and was about to be released, but an order issued Friday by a federal judge in Iowa stayed the planned release.
Court records allege the group was involved with meth distribution between the summer of 2013 until August 2015.
During the investigation, authorities seized several large caches of currency including $6,900 from Harders during an August 2013 traffic stop in Waterloo; $32,000 from Michael Pineda in a Coralville hotel in September 2014; $21,150 from Harders at a Kennedy Lane address in September 2014; $50,650 from Harders at an Ansborough Avenue address in September 2014; and $18,210 from Harders in Gladbrook in September 2016, court records state.
Harders’s home on 120th Street in Gladbrook is identified in the forfeiture list.
According to court records, investigators with the Mason City Drug Task Force intercepted two FedEx packages in January 2014 that contained a total of 7 pounds of ice meth hidden inside car audio components. One package had been sent to a Mason City address, and the other was destined for Lake Mills, records state. Investigators were able to obtain surveillance images from the FedEx store in California showing Arias sending the packages, records state.
In September 2014, Michael Pineda allegedly came to Iowa to deliver meth to Harders at a Coralville hotel, record state. Harders was stopped on Interstate 380 after it left the hotel and was headed back to Waterloo, and a search of his vehicle turned up a plastic bag that contained a car audio component that, in turn, contained about three pounds of meth, records state. Authorities then searched Michael Pineda’s hotel room and seized $32,000 in cash, records state.
Tri-County Drug Enforcement Task Force officers also searched Harder’s Gladbrook residence in September 2016 after an officer found 3 grams of meth and $1,600 in cash during a traffic stop. At his home, they found meth, $18,210 in cash, digital scales, vape inserts suspected of containing hash oil, and a Polaris ATV that was stolen from Hardin County, according to court records.
During the investigation, officers worked with an undercover source to make $12,000 worth of payments for meth purchases, which involved depositing money into various bank accounts that included an automobile audio equipment business, records state.