Operation Icebox Arrests Include Prominent Hispanic Leader

Work continues tonight to break up an organized East Texas meth ring. So far, 16 people have been arrested in Operation Icebox. This morning, the DEA seized four bank accounts from those arrested and are working on seizing another. The people arrested are from all social groups, including a prominent leader in the Hispanic community.

"Disbelief at first," said Darryl Bowdre, Executive Director of the Tyler Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. "Shock and we are still surprised and shocked and saddened." 58-year-old Simon Balderas, Sr. now stands accused of distributing meth. For several years, he served on the Tyler Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce board, which works to strengthen minority businesses. Most recently, he was vice president.

"We had to have someone to communicate with the transition that goes on over here, black, Hispanic and they likewise had to have someone, so Simon was someone where his work and his attitude transcended racial lines," said Bowdre. Simon Balderas Sr. also worked for the East Texas Workforce Center Tyler, which helps people find jobs throughout East Texas. Officials from the workforce would not comment, but say he worked there for a short time, until last September.

It was Balderas' son, Simon Balderas Junior, who the DEA says started the meth distribution ring. When arrested, officials say he was not employed.

"He has claimed multiple times to local police officers that he is the head of the Nortenos gang here in Tyler, which is a Spanish based organization," said Richard Sanders, DEA Resident Agent in Charge. "He did have the name Nortinos written on locations there at this residence. Other than that Simon came up like anyone else. He just took the wrong path." The DEA says that's easy to do because drugs do not discriminate. All it takes is one bad decision.

Officials believes there will be several more arrests, based on the evidence it collected yesterday from the meth ring.

Molly Reuter, reporting, mreuter@kltv.com