Dayton, OH (WCPO) — Celia Ruiz-Ochoa spent her childhood sleeping on the hallway floor of her family’s crowded three-bedroom home in Mexico. In 1986, when Ruiz-Ochoa was 18, she smuggled her 2-year-old son, Sergio, across the border to California
after settling in Dayton, the undocumented single mother of nine became the undisputed queen of an international drug trafficking operation that helped fuel the deadly opioid crisis in southern Ohio.
Fifty-year old Celia is serving a 210-month sentence at a federal prison in Alabama. Sergio, who took over the family business in 2016, is a fugitive whose whereabouts are unknown, according to Mauricio Jimenez, the assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in the southern district of Ohio.
The DEA, along with state and local police, has spent the last dozen years tracking and unraveling the Ruiz family’s illicit business. During that time, at least a dozen members of the organization have been convicted of federal crimes and sentenced to a combined 1,032 years in prison, according to the 9 On Your Side I-Team’s review of federal court records.
The details of the Ruiz family business are disclosed in hundreds of pages of court documents filed during the last decade. I-Team investigators examined those records and conducted interviews with current and former federal agents, allowing us a rare look inside a major drug trafficking operation and the challenges law enforcement faces trying to shut it down.
“The Mexican transnational criminal organizations are the biggest threat to the United States,” Jimenez told the I-Team last week during a visit to his office in Columbus.
In federal court records, members of the Ruiz family indicated they arrived in Dayton in the mid ’90s. In 2002, according to a document Ruiz-Ochoa filed in court, the father of one of her children abandoned her, leaving her family with no income. Her family spent the following winter in a rental home with no heat. Unable to take care of her children, Celia Ruiz-Ochoa began selling drugs in 2005, according to documents provided to the court in her defense.