Authorities: Mexican Drug Cartel Suffers "Death Blow;" Billion-Dollar Trafficking Ring Busted Up by Law Enforcement Agencies

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Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies claim to have delivered a "death blow" to a Mexican drug trafficking ring that was running $33 million worth of drugs through Arizona every month.

Authorities announced this morning the results of "Operation Pipeline Express," a 17-month investigation into a drug trafficking ring that has ties to Mexico's Sinaloan cartel.

The operation was a collaborative effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations squad, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

"Today we have dealt a significant blow to a Mexican criminal enterprise that has been responsible for poisoning our communities with the distribution of millions of dollars' worth of marijuana, cocaine and heroin," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says. "I find it completely unacceptable that Arizona neighborhoods are treated as a trading floor for narcotics."

In all, 76 people were arrested in connection with "Operation Pipeline Express," including 22 who were taken into custody last week.

According to authorities, those arrested include organizational "bosses," stash house guards, and load drivers.

The traffickers operated around cells based in Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa, where they 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 drugs, which also included cocaine and heroin, were sold to distributors from multiple states nationwide.

During last week's operation, authorities seized more than two tons of marijuana, 19 weapons -- including assault rifles, handguns, and shotguns -- and nearly $200,000 in cash.

Intelligence gathered by law enforcement indicates the trafficking ring has been in operation for at least five years. During that time, authorities say it's moved 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 nearly $2 billion in profits.

"Through our joint efforts, we've sent a resounding message to the Mexican cartels that Arizona is off limits to their operatives," Matthew Allen, special agent in charge for HSI in Arizona, says. "As this case makes clear, law enforcement in Arizona is united in its resolve to protect our communities and our country from the scourge of large-scale narcotics trafficking. We stand ready to use every tool and resource at our disposal to attack and dismantle these organizations."

So far, "Operation Pipeline Express" has led to the seizure of more than 60,000 pounds of marijuana, more than 200 pounds of cocaine, 160 pounds of heroin, more than $750,000 in cash, and nearly 110 weapons -- including multiple assault rifles.   

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