FBI Raid Nets 20 Suspected Cartel Traffickers, Nearly A Ton Of Cocaine

By Keri Blakinger 08/13/18

Three sprawling federal indictments unsealed last week named 57 defendants snared in the operation—and 35 of them are still on the run.

Drug packages smuggled in a car spare tire

Twenty alleged Sinaloa Cartel drug traffickers were arrested early Wednesday in a web of raids that netted 850 pounds of meth, nearly 1 ton of cocaine, 93 pounds of heroin and $1.42 million in cash. 

Over the course of a three-year investigation involving a slew of government agencies from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to Los Angeles police, investigators uncovered a massive drug-trafficking ring regularly hauling in kilograms of narcotics from south of the border. Law enforcement also seized nearly 50 pounds of cannabis.

Three sprawling federal indictments unsealed last week named 57 defendants snared in the operation—and 35 of them are still on the run. Most are believed to be in Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“More than simply seizing large quantities of drugs and money, this investigation was able to identify the top-level, Mexican-based traffickers who directed the transactions, and who thought they were using secure communication devices to commit their crimes,” First Assistant United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “Our ability to obtain those communications continues to be an important part of our ability to solve these crimes.” 

The investigation—known as Operation Narconetas—zeroed in on three drug trafficking organizations accused of using vehicles with hidden compartments to smuggle large quantities of drugs from Mexico to the U.S., sometimes storing the substances in stash houses before distributing them throughout the country.

The indictments outline allegations of vast drug trafficking conspiracies, and also include asset forfeiture requests as the government seeks to seize any property or resources used in the smuggling operation.

“Today’s arrest of multiple defendants for their alleged role in smuggling funds from illegal drug transactions in and out of the United States is a victory for the American public and a defeat to drug traffickers everywhere,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe of the Los Angeles Field Office. “The special agents of IRS Criminal Investigation continue in their mission to disrupt the flow of ill-gotten gains that is the life-blood for these criminals.”

The multi-agency task force behind the arrests, known as the Los Angeles Strike Force, was formed in 2014 to target Mexican drug cartels in Los Angeles, which authorities identified as a major hub for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The strike force, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), also included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the California Highway Patrol; Torrance Police Department; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; Los Angeles Police Department and others.

The arrests and indictments are just the latest federal offensive against the violent cartel. Earlier this year, prosecutors in San Diego indicted 75 people in a $6 million money laundering bust using WhatsApp, according to the Los Angeles Times

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.