Albuquerque Firefighter Will Stay in Jail on Drug, Money Laundering Charges

A federal magistrate judge refused to release Albuquerque firefighter Steve Chavez from custody Tuesday after a police officer testified Chavez made post-arrest statements suggesting a drug group had been keeping watch on a drug task force headquarters.

Chavez is among 15 men named in an indictment that U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales characterized as one of the most significant drug and money laundering cases ever filed in New Mexico. Chavez, 32, a seven-year veteran of the Albuquerque Fire Department, was among nine arrested last week during sweeps in Albuquerque and Edgewood. He is charged with conspiracy and “structuring transactions,” or attempting to hide the money.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dan Schneider said Chavez had not rebutted the presumption that he was a flight risk or a danger to the community, and ordered him detained.

Chavez’s attorney Jason Bowles said after the hearing he expects to file an appeal of the detention order this week to U.S. District Judge James O. Browning, the assigned judge.

Chavez’s wife, Camille, had offered to serve as thirdparty custodian and post a property bond using the couple’s recently purchased home on Laguna Boulevard, across from the Albuquerque Country Club, that the couple was refurbishing. She said her husband was honest, reliable, did not use drugs and would not leave the community while the charges against him were pending.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Reeve Swainston, in questioning her, revealed that Chavez had made trips to Florida three to four times in the last six months, presumably to gamble or play poker. She said that she knew nothing about the ounce of cocaine powder and two loaded firearms found in his BMW or about the 10 firearms found in the home on Blue Pine they shared with her parents.

Camille Chavez said she didn’t know about bank accounts her husband maintained at f inancial institutions other than her own, in which some $350,000 worth of transactions had taken place. Camille Chavez, who married Steve Chavez about a year ago, has known him for 14 years, but she said they had kept their finances separate.

Four of the suspects have yet to be arrested, including Homero Varela, 29, the suspected leader of the organization. Police also are seeking three other defendants who are considered fugitives, Mexican nationals Manuel Villa-Mayorquin, 23, and Procoro Noberto-Alvarez, 28, and Edgewood resident Ramon Gonzalez, Jr., 25.

Individuals with information on the fugitives are asked to call the Drug Enforcement Administration at 505-452-4500.

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