The man who allegedly ran drugs out of a Highland Park home that doubled as an unlicensed daycare center likely was a big time drug dealer with connections south of the border, a law enforcement official said Tuesday. Drug agents arrested Felipe Talamante last month and seized more than 20 kilograms of cocaine at the home, where authorities said kids "of all ages" were observed and the drugs sat in a makeshift child's bedroom.
"When we see drugs at this level, it’s our experience that the people that are controlling them are the cartels from the Mexican side of the border," said Chuck Balo, acting director of the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force.
Talamante, 48, plans to plead not guilty to federal drug charges, according to his attorney Victor Sherman.
His son, Miguel Angel Talamante, 19, also has been charged – despite pleas from his father.
"It’s all me. Leave my son out of this," Talamante told agents as he was taken into custody May 25th, according to the federal complaint. The complaint describes the son as the person who placed a phone call asking for the drugs to be delivered to the Highland Park home at 5215 Marmion Way.
Talamante’s wife – who apparently ran the daycare – remains under investigation by state and federal authorities, including the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.
The alleged operation surprised Balo, who said he's worked in law enforcement for nearly 40 years.
"I’ve seen a lot of things in my career," he said. "This one was just baffling in how bold it was, and how much it endangered children in the community."
According to the federal complaint, the cocaine was discovered in a walk-in closet that was a makeshift bedroom with a small mattress, blankets and sheets.
The elder Talamante was arrested two years ago with a similarly large amount of drugs, according to Balo. He said the multi-agency task force involved in the arrest included agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Inglewood Police Department and Simi Valley Police Department.
Los Angeles County jail records show Talamante was arrested May 25, 2015 - exactly two years before he was taken into custody this time. He wasn't booked until June 25. Records show bail was set at $500,000.
He was released the next day, June 26, according the records.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney said the case was never brought to federal prosecutors for filing. A spokesman for Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said local prosecutors decided against filing charges.
"It appears a case was declined in late 2015," said Lacey spokesman Greg Risling.
It’s unclear why charges were never filed.
"That was obviously one of my first questions – what happened back in 2015," Balo told KPCC. "I don’t have the answer to that."
City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed a civil lawsuit against Felipe and Garcia Talamante, who own the property. The suit seeks closure of the property and monetary penalties, costs of the law enforcement investigation and attorney’s fees.
In a news release, Feuer said the property has been known by law enforcement as a site for the distribution of narcotics and heavily frequented by drug users and buyers for two years.
"The rampant drug activity we see at this home is a dangerous blight on the community – especially alarming because little kids are caught up in the middle of it," Feuer said.