Although drug trafficking charges in Alexandria federal court are common, it’s rare for agents to seize so much cash at once, especially from a dealer selling to an informant or undercover officer for the first time.
According to an affidavit written by Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Daniel Son, the deal began when a cocaine broker in the Dominican Republic contacted a local informant through an encrypted app about a potential deal. Authorities said the broker told the informant that Tavarez, nicknamed “El Primo,” was interested in buying large amounts of cocaine.
The pair met first in Lorton and agreed to a sale of 50 kilograms for $25,000 each with another 30 kilograms on consignment, Son wrote, a total that eventually rose to 100 kilograms.
A handoff planned for September was scrapped after Tavarez realized he had left too late to avoid rush-hour traffic and agents worried they would not have enough visibility, according to the affidavit. The informant pretended he was having health problems and had to leave the country for treatment.
Tavarez also requested an extra car, which he would later return, to carry some of the drugs, prosecutors said. The informant promised a family car.
On Oct. 23, Tavarez arrived in Fairfax, meeting up with the informant and an undercover Virginia State Police officer in the lobby of a Marriott hotel in Vienna, according to the affidavit. The informant said he would stay at the hotel with Tavarez to count the money, which was in a white Honda, while the undercover officer went to get the drugs.
Lizardo and Liriano-Toribio were parked in the BMW on the second level of a Home Depot parking garage in Fairfax.
Undercover agents brought only 20 kilograms of cocaine to the meeting, planning to claim the remainder was in a storage unit across the street. But after Lizardo got inside a DEA agent’s car and picked up a package of cocaine to test it, according to Son, he and Liriano-Toribio were arrested. Tavarez was arrested at the Marriott shortly thereafter.
Law enforcement agents said that they had not done an official count of the cash but that Tavarez brought $1.15 million to the hotel.
Lizardo and Tavarez would not answer questions, court papers say. But Liriano-Toribio told agents he was Tavarez’s barber and had asked him for some work after learning he was a drug dealer. Tavarez offered him $5,000 to drive to Virginia, calling him at 5 a.m. on Tuesday. Tavarez had already given him $500 to help with his rent, Liriano-Toribio said.
All three are in detention and are set to have a preliminary hearing Friday afternoon. Lizardo and Tavarez said they could afford their own lawyers; Liriano-Toribio has a public defender.