published Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Cocaine bust shuts restaurant in Dalton, Ga.

  • photo
    Ruben Ramos-Mendez, 37, is charged with selling cocaine out of Los Caporales restaurant in Dalton, Ga.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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Shortly before lunch hour Monday, employees at the Los Caporales restaurant in Dalton, Ga., were setting up when Whitfield County Sheriff's Office cars started pulling into the parking lot.

Minutes later, their boss, 37-year-old Ruben Ramos-Mendez, was in handcuffs, charged with selling cocaine out of the same restaurant that served up carne asada and nacho platters.

Investigators with the sheriff's office believe the restaurant at 601 Fleming St. has been operating for months as the hub of a cocaine distribution operation.

"We believe it was probably going on for about a year. It could have been longer than that," said sheriff's spokesman Detective Ricky Swiney.

Four people -- including Ramos-Mendez, the owner of Los Caporales -- were arrested after a series of search warrants were executed Monday morning after a six-month undercover operation, Sheriff Scott Chitwood said in a news release.

The searches resulted in the seizure of about 12 ounces of cocaine and more than $12,000 in cash, authorities said.

Along with Ramos-Mendez, Luis Sierra, 22, Esmerelda Sierra, 21, and Lorenzo Terrazas-Garcia, 39, were arrested and charged with trafficking in cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Ramos-Mendez bonded out Tuesday on a $45,000 bond. Bonds have not been set for the other three, and they're still in the Whitfield County Jail, officials said.

None had attorneys listed, according to jail employees.

Los Caporales was closed Tuesday, and no one answered phone calls to numbers listed for the restaurant.

The undercover operation began last September when the sheriff's office received information that cocaine deals were being made at the restaurant, officials said. Over six months, undercover officers made eight cocaine purchases from Ramos-Mendez, Luis Sierra and a third person still being sought, Chitwood said.

A number of the transactions were made during business hours, Swiney said.

According to Chitwood, Ramos-Mendez kept most of the cocaine stored at Luis Sierra's nearby residence and Esmeralda Sierra, Luis' wife, transported cocaine from the home to the restaurant.

Swiney said the restaurant is fairly popular, and the bar stays busy at night.

On Urbanspoon.com, reviews of the restaurant were varied, with one writer describing the restaurant as "a cozy little Mexican place with delicious food" and another describing the service as "horrible."

"No one wanted to work," said the anonymous review, posted this month. "The employees stood around huddle[d] up together talking the whole time ... Too busy to do their jobs."

Swiney said it is unclear how many employees were aware of the drug business being conducted at the restaurant.

The investigation is continuing with the assistance with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, authorities said.

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