Police bust Lowell drug ring, arrest 21 ‘cocaine cowboys’

The arrests are the result of an investigation that began in 2019.

Law enforcement officials announced Tuesday that they had arrested 21 people that were part of a major drug trafficking operation centered in Lowell. 

The arrests come after an extensive investigation that took several years. A number of agencies worked together to crack down on a group that had named itself the “Cocaine Cowboys.”

Police executed 32 search warrants, seizing 11 guns, hundreds of grams of cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, Xanax, and over $100,000, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office. 

Police began their investigation in 2019, with undercover agents purchasing drugs from the end of 2019 through the summer of 2022, Ryan said at a press conference. The undercover purchases lasted this long so that police could identify where the drugs were coming from and where they were being kept in Lowell. 


On Oct. 28, a Middlesex Superior Court Justice issued a wiretap warrant for the investigation. This went into effect on Oct. 31, Ryan said, and officers began intercepting communications regarding the alleged large purchases being placed by members of the organization. Through the wiretap, investigators learned about the runners who were allegedly purchasing drugs, how the drugs were cut and packaged for resale, and the coordination that went into filling customer orders. 

The trafficking operation was complex, officials said, and it involved moving several kilograms of cocaine per week throughout Lowell and into other communities, sometimes into New Hampshire.

“This was a sophisticated operation that was maximizing the profit to be made from the large supplies of drugs that were coming in by the way they were being cut, repackaged, and sold,” Ryan said. The operation also “involved the possession by many of these people of a significant number of illegal firearms, putting many people in the community at risk.”

The alleged leader of the organization was Hector Arriaga, 33, of Lowell. Arriaga was coordinating operations from his home because he was under house arrest because of a motor vehicle racing charge out of Essex County, Ryan said. More than $60,000 was found in his home, she added. 


Police executed 32 search warrants this week, targeting residences, businesses, storage units, and bank accounts, Ryan said. She expects more charges to be announced in the future, and the investigation is ongoing. 

“We basically took out an organization that was distributing an estimated five kilos of cocaine on the streets of the Merrimack Valley each week,” said Interim Superintendent of Lowell Police Barry Golner at the press conference. 

The investigation and subsequent arrests were particularly important because they helped get fentanyl off the streets, according to Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New England Field Division Stephen Belleau.

“Fentanyl is the most urgent drug threat facing our communities. More than 107,000 people died from a drug poisoning or overdose last year. Sixty-six percent of those deaths were caused by fentanyl,” Belleau said at the press conference. 

The drug is a highly addictive synthetic opioid, he said, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. It can be mixed with other drugs or pressed into pills to resemble medication. For this reason fentanyl is often unknowingly ingested. 

Fentanyl is also becoming more potent, Belleau said. A DEA laboratory analysis showed that six out of every 10 fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, he said. 


“The sheer accessibility and availability of fentanyl makes the threat that much more dangerous. It’s the scary truth that one pill can kill,” Belleau said. 

The following people are facing charges as a result of this investigation:

  • Hector Arriaga, 32, of Lowell
  • Angel Castro Penaloza, 26, of Lowell
  • Zachary LaPorte, 27, of Winter Haven, Fla.
  • Rafael Mejias, 24, of Lowell
  • Ruben Torres, 22, of Lawrence
  • Anthony Flores, 29, of Tyngsboro
  • John Miller, 29, of Lowell 
  • Randall Tremblay, 31, of Lowell 
  • Jason Pais, 31, of Lowell
  • Wanda Quinones, 54, of Kingston, N.H. 
  • Jesse Morales Martinez, 27, of Lowell
  • Benyalis Mejias, 22, of Lowell
  • Roberto Lopez, 32, of Lowell 
  • David Sandoval, 31, of Lowell
  • Isaiah Colon, 20, of Lowell 
  • Davis Ngoun, 22, of Lowell 
  • Juan Troncoso, 19, of Lowell 
  • Junior Frett, 39, of Lowell
  • Raynel Hilario, 35, of Methuen
  • Betsy Martinez, 46, of Lowell 
  • Guelmin Manon, 35, of Lawrence 


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