Two More Suspects in Regional Drug Trafficking Case Appear in Court


Two more suspects in a drug trafficking case connected to a family-run operation out of Fresno, California, have appeared in Lewis County Superior Court.

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

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

Tolentino-Chino faces one count of delivery of methamphetamine and Venegas-Gatica faces one count of possession of methamphetamine with the 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 Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET) investigation into a drug trafficking organization distributing illegal drugs from Fresno, California, to the Pacific Northwest.

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

“During this investigation, several members of this organization were monitored selling large amounts of methamphetamine to customers in Lewis, Thurston, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor and Pierce Counties,” according to a news release from JNET.

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

Three of the arrested subjects — 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 in custody at the Lewis County Jail as of Friday afternoon.

In addition to the drug trafficking charges stemming from this case, Jesus Venegas-Gatica is also being held in relation to a methamphetamine delivery case from October 2012. Jesus Venegas-Gatica is accused of giving an alias — Chago Castillo — to officers who pulled him over for speeding on Oct. 23, 2012. Officers later found over 15.4 pounds of methamphetamine inside his vehicle, according to court documents.

Charges against “Chago Castillo” were filed on Jan. 24, 2013, and there has been a $100,000 warrant out for “Chago Castillo’s” arrest for nine years. Jesus Venegas-Gatica allegedly admitted to using “Chago Castillo” as an alias after he was taken into custody as part of the JNET investigation, according to Yeager.

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

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