McALLEN – The head of a large drug trade organization that controlled the marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine trade in Ohio was arrested not in a glamorous multi-agency operation like those seen in action movies.
Instead, authorities say he went down when a local police department visited a local used car lot performing a routine inspection.
The man arrested this week by Brownsville police appears to not only be a master at dealing cars, but court records show that Sixto Cano sat atop an organization that controlled most of the methamphetamine trade in central Ohio.
Cano’s case went public this week in papers filed in U.S. District Court in McAllen.
The Brownsville Police auto theft task force arrested Cano after a routine check at his lot off U.S. 281, said police spokesman J.J. Trevino.
The checks are made at various businesses to ensure that they are not using stolen parts, Trevino said. During the probe, detectives found “certain items” that prompted police to contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities refused to say what they found that prompted the call to the ATF because the case remains open.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos in McAllen ordered Cano held without bond pending an upcoming detention hearing.
Opening an independent used car dealership is a common way for criminals looking to quickly launder large amounts of cash.
“The used cars are bought up north in auctions; it’s cash only,” a man familiar with the local car and drug trade said. He requested anonymity, fearing reprisal from those involved. “Those cars are brought down here and typically sold for cash. Since it is done person-to-person and in cash, it is very easy to play around with the amounts.”
Federal authorities took an interest in Cano after a widespread investigation that took down 42 other drug dealers in Ohio — dubbed “Operation Crystal Clear” — pointed their fingers at the used car dealer.
The convicted drug dealers told authorities that Cano and his associates are the men behind the transportation and distribution of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine in Ohio.
The men also are known for carrying a variety of weapons but have a propensity to carry .45-caliber Mac-10 compact machine pistols, even though Cano and his associates all have prior drug trafficking convictions. Cano’s men used the weapons to threaten dealers that had not paid for their merchandise, court records say.
Authorities became even more suspicious of Cano after his home in Columbus, Ohio was torched by unknown individuals in December 2010.
After the fire, Cano fled to his home in Brownsville, but he left behind his girlfriend, Amy Dillon, telling her to not speak with investigators, according to court records.
When arson investigators combed through the remains of the house, they were able to find bricks of cash that added up to almost $20,000.
Dillon told authorities she didn’t know Cano had hidden stacks of bills throughout the house, saying she only had $1,000. Shortly after the fire, Cano met with the arson investigators and told them that he was a car dealer and that the money had legitimate means, according to authorities. But he never showed any documentation to back up the claim and the money was seized.
According to an ATF confidential informant, Cano supplied one of his men with 10 pounds of methamphetamine, 10 pounds of cocaine and 500 pounds of marijuana a week, court records said. The deliveries were made personally in Cano’s pickup truck. Most of the deliveries were made to car repair shops, body shops and tire shops where drugs and cash were stored.
Ildefonso Ortiz covers courts, law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at Iortiz@themonitor.com,(956) 683-4437 or on Twitter, @ildefonsoortiz.