Monday, October 31, 2011

Feds And Arizona Law Enforcement Officials Arrested 76 Suspects For Billion Dollar Drug Trafficking Operation

Photos: ICE

Sinaloa cartel suspects smuggled more than $33 million worth of drugs into the U.S. per month.

By H. Nelson Goodson
October 31, 2011

Phoenix, Arizona - On Monday during a press conference, Aizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced that federal and county law enforcement officials, including the state attorney general's office were able to arrest about 76 suspects connected to the Sinaloa Cartel. Some of the suspects are Mexican nationals and others are U.S. citizens. A 17-month investigation led authorities to a criminal organization that smuggled more than $33 million of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin into the U.S. through Arizona.
In a news release, officials say the ring, organized around cells based in the Arizona communities of Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa, used backpackers and vehicles to move loads of marijuana and other drugs from the Arizona-Mexico border to a network of "stash" houses in the Phoenix area. After arriving in Phoenix, the contraband, which also included cocaine and heroin, was sold to distributors from multiple states nationwide.
Monday's announcement comes just four days after federal and local investigators executed the third in a succession of large-scale enforcement actions tied to the probe, taking another 22 defendants into custody. To date, 76 individuals have been criminally arrested in connection with "Operation Pipeline Express," ranging from organizational "bosses" to stash house guards and load drivers.
During last week's warranted searches, authorities seized more than two tons of marijuana, 19 weapons – including assault rifles, handguns, and shotguns – and nearly $200,000 in cash.
Prior to last week's takedown, authorities had conducted two other major enforcement actions in connection with "Operation Pipeline Express." Earlier this month, agents executed a dozen search warrants throughout central and southern Arizona, including in the communities of Casa Grande and Stanfield, taking custody of 17 primary case targets. In mid-September, the initial enforcement action in the investigation resulted in the arrest of six suspects on state drug and conspiracy charges.
Intelligence gathered as part of "Operation Pipeline Express" indicates the organization is tied to Mexico's Sinaloan cartel and has been in existence for at least the last five years. During that timeframe, authorities conservatively estimate the ring has smuggled more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into to the United States, generating almost $2 billion in illicit proceeds, accoring to the news release.
The agencies overseeing the 17-month investigation, includes the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

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