Tattoos Don't Lie: Seattle Regional Office Nabs Leader of Drug Trafficking Organization

June 8, 2015


This crime saga involves a dead teenaged boy, his amnesic mother, his telltale tattoo, a “ghost” who stole his identity, and a DS special agent who finally brought the protracted case to a successful conclusion.

On May 18, 1977, a baby boy named Juan Luis Pulido was born in Stanford, California. Seventeen years later in 1994, Mexican authorities found his body on a dirt road in Michoacán, Mexico, brutally assaulted and shot five times in what might have been a drug-related retribution killing.

Date: 06/08/2015 Description: The increase in methamphetamine trade is closely linked to the uptick in violent crimes in the Pacific Northwest committed by users under its hallucinatory influence as well as traffickers in their business practices. (Shutterstock photo) - State Dept Image
The increase in methamphetamine trade is closely linked to the uptick in violent crimes in the Pacific Northwest committed by users under its hallucinatory influence as well as traffickers in their business practices. (Shutterstock photo)

Some five years later, the deceased Pulido’s identity was stolen by a Mexican national named Gerardo Luna-Rodriguez – better known to local law enforcement as John Doe due to his unknown true identity, or the “ghost,” due to his uncanny ability to lie low, surfacing only on rare occasions to check on his drug trafficking organization.

What local law enforcement has suspected for years is that Luna-Rodriguez is the leader of a drug trafficking organization connected to the Knights Templar drug cartel based in Michoacán, Mexico.

The driver’s license is the first step
Luna-Rodriguez’ first opportunity to establish a false identity in the United States came when he successfully applied for a driver’s license in Oregon in 1999, using the deceased Pulido’s documents. How Luna-Rodriguez acquired these documents is unknown. However, it is not uncommon for family members of deceased U.S. citizens to sell their documents to relatives or acquaintances. Luna-Rodriguez – if that is even his real name – had used Pulido’s identity for so long that even his children knew him by no other name.

But he was not the only one using Pulido’s identity. In 2000, DS’ San Francisco Field Office (SFFO) found another person in California who had fraudulently used Pulido’s documents in 1997. They subsequently arrested this person and had him deported.

In the process, DS agents contacted the mother of the deceased Pulido who confirmed that her son had been murdered in 1994, and even provided a newspaper article about the killing. DS’ Regional Security Office (RSO) Mexico City confirmed the mother’s sworn statement by providing Pulido’s death certificate and a photo of the cadaver.

The “ghost” tries to secure a U.S. passport
Luna-Rodriguez was not on the law enforcement radar just yet. So, using his Oregon driver’s license, he applied for a U.S. passport in Oregon in 2002. Attached to his passport application was a set of valid documents including Pulido’s birth certificate, custody hearings between his mother and father, and the fraudulent Oregon driver’s license.

The Oregon Passport Office rejected the application and alerted SFFO whose agents interviewed Luna-Rodriguez and fingerprinted him. The prints matched those of one Juan Luis Pulido in the FBI database. DS agents deduced that Luna-Rodriguez had committed a crime not too long after acquiring his Oregon driver’s license in 1999, and his fingerprints were entered into the FBI database under Pulido’s name on his driver’s license. This created a layer of false authenticity to his stolen identity.

The SFFO presented the case of identity theft and passport fraud to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecutorial consideration, but was declined and referred to the passport office for adjudication and final resolution.

The second attempt to secure a passport
In 2007, Luna-Rodriguez again applied for a passport using Pulido’s documents. When DS agents confronted him with Pulido’s death certificate, Luna-Rodriguez denied having stolen his identity. Shortly thereafter, he brazenly filed a police report in Portland that “his” identity had been stolen.

SFFO agents again interviewed the mother of the deceased Pulido. This time, she stated that her son was still alive and planning to return home in six months. When presented with the photo of Luna-Rodriguez, she said that was not her son.

DS again presented the case of identity theft and passport fraud to the U.S. Attorney’s Office but was declined due to lack of prosecutorial merit. Emboldened, Luna-Rodriguez applied for a passport a third time in 2010 with Pulido’s documents, this time including Pulido’s school and immunization records dating back to the late 1970s as well as the 2007 police report he had filed in Oregon stating “his” identity had been stolen.

The beginning of the end for the “ghost”
It was not until the summer of 2011, when law enforcement in Portland, Oregon, intercepted 24 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at $302, 400, that Special Agent Jason of DS’ Seattle Resident Office (SRO), got on the case.

The DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, and Portland Police Bureau operating under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), suspected Luna-Rodriguez was a leader of a Mexico-based drug trafficking organization operating in California, Oregon, and Washington. DEA agents reached out to Jason when they learned that DS had investigated Luna-Rodriguez on multiple occasions for possible passport fraud and identity theft.

It was not until the summer of 2011, when law enforcement in Portland, Oregon, intercepted 24 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at $302,400, that Special Agent Jason of DS’ Seattle Resident Office (SRO), got on the case.

During his ten years as a detective in the Washington State Patrol (WSP), Jason served on task forces with the DEA, U.S. Marshals Service, and the WSP SWAT team. “I cannot overemphasize how important it is to take the time to build relationships with federal, state, and local partners and let them know what DS can do for their cases,” he says.

All of Jason’s important drug cases are self-generated by picking up the phone and calling his DEA counterparts. “They’re busy and not always thinking of the passport visa fraud nexus. So it’s worth asking, hey, have you got anything passport or visa related? Do you know that if I can show your target used his passport to facilitate his drug-trafficking enterprise, you can get an additional 20-year enhancement?”

Once Jason was on this case, the passport investigation rapidly gained momentum. While OCDETF investigators conducted a large-scale federal wiretap investigation into Luna-Rodriguez’s drug trafficking organization, Jason reviewed multiple case notes, passport applications, interviews, and department of licensing records. He also checked with the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, who confirmed that, since Pulido’s death in 1994, eight cards had been issued for his Social Security number.

Jason also sent a lead request to SFFO to have an agent there interview the mother of the deceased a third time. She gave yet another contradictory sworn statement that her son had in fact been killed, and that her estranged nephew had assumed his identity. When presented with a photo of Luna-Rodriguez, she stated that it was neither her son nor her nephew.

Jason then worked with RSO Mexico City to gather all the relevant documents and had them translated by the Department’s Office of Language Services. Upon reviewing the documents in English, Jason confirmed that Pulido’s father had identified his son’s body and that the cause of death was blunt trauma and multiple gunshot wounds.

The telltale tattoo
In addition, Jason noted an interesting detail in the photo of the cadaver: a dark tattoo that read, Pulido. Jason notes, “The deceased had his name tattooed on his chest. How can you possibly argue with that?” Contrary to what Luna-Rodriguez repeatedly claimed, and contrary to what even Pulido’s own mother claimed, it was now indisputable that the real Juan Luis Pulido had died in 1994.

Jason gathered all the case notes dating back 15 years and the certified translations of all the relevant documents of this multi-agency OCDETF investigation involving an ongoing Title III (federal electronic surveillance statutes). Jason completed his investigation and presented his findings to both the DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Nabbed in the nick of time
Much to his surprise, on February 8, 2013, Jason got a call from his DEA counterpart saying the “ghost” was on the move and attempting to return to Mexico. “I remember I got that call on a Friday because I wrote the affidavit then drove out to the judge’s house on the following Saturday to get his signature on the warrant,” says Jason.

Based on a collaborative effort, DEA intercepted Luna-Rodriguez, who was already on board a plane en route to Mexico, and arrested him. He was subsequently indicted as “John Doe” in the U.S. District Court of Oregon on two counts of passport fraud and later on federal drug charges for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin.

Jason’s turnkey
passport investigation
and subsequent probable cause gave OCDETF investigators time to develop
a systematic enforcement
plan to arrest all remaining players and dismantle the entire organization.

Without Jason’s completed passport investigation, OCDETF investigators would have had to prematurely arrest Luna-Rodriguez, which would have compromised the ongoing wiretap investigation into the entire drug trafficking organization. Jason’s turnkey passport investigation and subsequent probable cause gave OCDETF investigators time to develop a systematic enforcement plan to arrest all remaining players and dismantle the entire organization.

On February 15, 2013, members of SRO provided arrest support, resulting in the dismantlement of Luna-Rodriguez’s drug trafficking organization. The OCDETF investigation resulted in 13 arrests and the seizure of approximately 29 pounds of methamphetamine, 39 pounds of heroin, one pound of cocaine, $144,000 in U.S. currency, 13 firearms, and 2 vehicles.

Date: 06/08/2015 Description: No caption - State Dept Image

On February 25, 2015, two years after Jason wrote the affidavit in support of his arrest, the “ghost” was sentenced to 87 months in jail after pleading guilty to one count of making false statements on an application for a U.S. passport and one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess, with the intent to distribute, 500 grams of methamphetamine and one kilogram of heroin.

As a result of this successful case, multi-agency efforts in the Seattle area have picked up momentum and resulted in a significant increase in drug-related arrests and seizures involving passport and visa fraud.