Posted on 18 February 2010.
The Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (KANET), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the United States Attorney’s Office have dismantled a multi-million dollar, multi-state marijuana drug trafficking organization centered in the greater Kent County area.
Authorities said the organization was responsible for distributing over 3000 pounds of marijuana since 2008. The value of the marijuana is at least $3,600,000.00 and was being sold in pound quantities in the greater Kent County area and Leroy, MI. The marijuana was purchased in Albuquerque, NM and smuggled in cars and trucks to Grand Rapids, Belding, and Leroy MI. The investigation culminated in January 2010 with the arrest of the Rene Jimenez-Saenz, the Albuquerque, NM marijuana source of supply.
Over $240,000.00 in cash, two houses, 35 firearms and several vehicles including a 2008 Honda Ridgeline, a 2009 Honda Ridgeline and a 1999 Harley Davidson Fatboy were seized. One of the houses is a five year old lakefront home on Tower Lake in Belding, MI. The other house is a 3 year old home on 10 acres in Leroy, MI. The home in Leroy, MI had large commercial safes built into the basement and the 60×40 pole barn to secure the drug profits and the marijuana.
Beginning in March 2009, KANET Detectives developed information that Timothy Vangessel was involved in traveling to the western United States to buy loads of marijuana which were brought back to Grand Rapids, MI and sold for profit.
KANET contacted the DEA and they began working the case together. Over several months DEA and KANET identified 9 other members of the Drug Trafficking Organization ranging from New York to New Mexico.
DEA and KANET conducted search warrants in Grand Rapids, Belding, and Leroy, MI, and Albuquerque, NM. DEA and KANET conducted consent searches in Comstock Park, Sand Lake, Kentwood, Grand Rapids, Cadillac and Albuquerque NM. At press time it was not known what the search in Sand Lake turned up.
The investigation revealed that Timothy Vangessel was involved in over 20 trips to Albuquerque, NM. Once in Albuquerque, Timothy Vangessel would purchase loads of marijuana ranging from 50 pounds to over 250 pounds from Rene Jimenez-Saenz. The marijuana was concealed in car trunks and the side bed walls of Honda Ridgeline pick-ups. Vangessel then drove back to his Belding lakefront home, where the marijuana was sold to other dealers in Kent County and Leroy. The biggest of these dealers were identified as Mario Dimambro of Leroy, Justin Westhuis of Grand Rapids, and Dorian Brandt of Caledonia MI.
Sometime in 2008, Vangessel, Dimambro, Westhuis and Brandt began recruiting others to be paid couriers for the loads of marijuana driven from New Mexico to Michigan. The couriers were paid up to $5,000.00 per trip. Eventually Lizette Blanchard, Robert Whitcomb and Anthony Vangessel were identified as paid couriers for other members of the organization. All of the couriers made several trips except for Robert Whitcomb who was caught in Nebraska in October 2008 with a 200-pound load of marijuana destined for Vangessel and Brandt. It was later learned that this was Whitcomb’s first trip as a courier for the organization.
Eight members of the organization have been indicted on federal drug trafficking crimes and are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids MI, including the New Mexico supplier for the Michigan and New York members of the organization. Two additional members of the organization were prosecuted by the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office on State of Michigan felony drug charges.
The following members of the organization were indicted by the United States Attorney’s Office on federal drug trafficking charges:
Vangessel, Dimambro, Brandt, Westhuis and Whitcomb all pled guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute over 100 Kilograms of Marijuana and could get 5-40 years each.
Anthony Vangessel was indicted on the same charge and is awaiting trial.
Rene Jimenez-Saenz was indicted on Conspiracy to Distribute over 1000 Kilograms of Marijuana and awaiting trial. He could get 10 years to life in prison.
Lizzette Blanchard pled guilty to Interstate Travel in Aid of Racketeering and could get 0 to 5 years.
Thomas Koryto was charged by the Kent County Prosecutors Office with Possession With Intent to Distribute Marijuana and maintaining a Drug House.