On the evening of March 17, 2020, a former Mexican police officer working for the Sinaloa cartel left his hotel room in Tijuana and walked across the U.S. border into Southern California. Ricardo Ramos Medina’s first stop was San Diego International Airport, where he picked up a rental car. He drove to a nearby location and met a female drug mule, who handed off a grocery sack filled with methamphetamine. Then he set out on a much longer journey — a 16-hour drive to Montana, NBC reports. Medina had made the trip a handful of times before, but this time it didn’t go as planned. Before he reached Butte, he was pulled over by state and federal officers. Inside his white Jeep Compass, they found about 2 pounds of pure methamphetamine — enough, authorities said, to supply the entire town of Townsend, Mont. (population: 2,150), for multiple days. The arrest helped bring down a drug trafficking ring that federal prosecutors said brought at least 2,000 pounds of meth and 700,000 fentanyl-laced pills into Montana from Mexico over three years.
“Why Montana?” said Chad Anderberg, a Montana Division of Criminal Investigation agent who was a lead investigators on the case. “It boiled down to money. He could make so much more profit from drugs he sold here than in any other place.” Illegal drugs have long flowed from Mexico to the more remote parts of the U.S. With the rise of fentanyl, cartel associates have pushed more aggressively into Montana, where pills can be sold for 20 times the price they get in urban centers closer to the border, law enforcement officials said. Some areas of the state have become awash with drugs, particularly its Indian reservations, where tribal leaders say crime and overdoses are surging. On some reservations, cartel associates have formed relationships with Indigenous women as a way of establishing themselves within communities to sell drugs. More frequently, traffickers lure Native Americans into becoming dealers by giving away an initial supply of drugs and turning them into addicts indebted to the cartels.