Friday, October 14, 2011



Note: much of the drugs come through the Lower Sonoran area, and
Sonoran Desert NM, where BLM's preferred option E, of the new draft
resource management plan would restrict much of the U.S. public
access and shooting. Curious so few firearms found. Only firearm
visible in media reports was a .22 rimfire rifle, and two bricks
would come to 1k rounds.

17 arrested in Arizona pot-smuggling case
by Daniel González - Oct. 14, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Federal authorities said Thursday that they have crippled a large
drug-smuggling organization responsible for moving 50,000 pounds of
marijuana a month through Arizona, evidence that the state remains a
major corridor for transporting marijuana and other drugs from Mexico
into the United States.

In a raid carried out by hundreds of local, state and federal police,
officials arrested 17 high-level members of a smuggling organization
that worked with Mexican cartels primarily to move marijuana that had
already been smuggled across the border to stash houses in Tucson,
Casa Grande and metropolitan Phoenix.

"These are what I would call the command-and-control elements in
Pinal County and in Phoenix who were responsible for orchestrating
the smuggling," said Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of
investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix.
ICE led the investigation, which lasted over a year, along with the
Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

In recent years, the Sinaloa cartel, the largest cartel in Mexico,
has been smuggling increasing amounts of marijuana through Arizona,
where it is hidden in stash houses throughout the Phoenix area and
held until orders come in and it is shipped out, said Elizabeth
Kempshall, former special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement
Administration in Phoenix.

"That is their primary revenue-generating crop, so they push through
a lot of marijuana through Arizona to be distributed throughout the
rest of the country," Kempshall said.

She is now executive director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking
Area, a federal program that provided funding to the joint ICE and
Pinal County task force that investigated the smuggling organization
raided on Thursday.

Kempshall said targeting organizations such as the Casa Grande
smuggling ring that was raided Thursday is part of a strategy aimed
at disrupting the cartels.

"If we continue to hit them hard, it will make Arizona an undesirable
route for the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle marijuana," she said.

The cartel uses proceeds from marijuana smuggling to buy weapons,
cocaine and other drugs from other criminal organizations or to "pay
corrupt officials to do their business," she said. "So, whoever has
the most money and the most toys is the most powerful, and so, that's
why we have so much marijuana coming though Arizona," Kempshall said.

Marijuana is grown in the mountains of the state of Sinaloa, just
south of Sonora along the Pacific Ocean. Once harvested, it is
transported to the border, where it is held on ranches in Sonora,
just across the border from Arizona, Kempshall said.

The marijuana is then typically trekked across the border in
backpacks or smuggled inside vehicles and then stashed in the Arizona
desert until it can be transported in vehicles to stash houses in
Tucson and Casa Grande, officials said. From those locations, it is
then typically moved to stash houses in the Phoenix area, where it is
held before being transported throughout the country.

Kempshall said Phoenix and Atlanta are the two largest marijuana-
distribution hubs in the nation. Marijuana smuggled across the Texas
border is transported to Atlanta, she said.

In the past, fall tended to be the peak marijuana-smuggling season,
coinciding with the fall marijuana harvest in Mexico, but now,
marijuana is grown year-round, ICE's Allen said.

Border Patrol statistics show a large amount of marijuana continues
to flow through the state despite the addition of hundreds of
additional agents in recent years.

From Oct. 1, 2010, through August of this year, the Border Patrol's
Tucson Sector, which covers most of southern Arizona, had seized
942,105 pounds of marijuana, up slightly from the 941,072 pounds
agents seized during the same period the previous year.

In fiscal 2010, agents seized more than 1 million pounds of
marijuana. Figures for fiscal 2011 are not yet complete. The fiscal
2010 numbers were up from 616,534 pounds in 2006 but down from fiscal
2009, when marijuana seizures peaked at 1.2 million pounds.

A DEA agent said tons of marijuana is currently sitting in Sonora
waiting to be smuggled into Arizona because the Sinaloa cartel is
having a difficult time finding enough people to transport it from
the border to Phoenix.

That could be even harder following Thursday's raid.

Before dawn, local state and federal police carried out 12 search
warrants, including six in Casa Grande, where the smuggling
organization was based, ICE officials said. Officers also executed
search warrants at a house in Avondale, where officers found more
than 800 pounds of marijuana, ICE officials said.

Television footage of the raid broadcast from news helicopters showed
agents entering the garage, where bales of marijuana were stacked
halfway up the walls.

The other search warrants were carried out in Stanfield, Tucson,
Marana and on the Gila River Reservation.

Officers seized more than 935 pounds of marijuana, 12 weapons, 1,000
rounds of ammunition and $35,000 in cash, ICE officials said.

Allen said that, by Arizona standards, 935 pounds was "not a whole
lot. But if you are in Des Moines or you are in Delaware, 900 pounds
will get you sent to jail for the rest of your life. You will be a

Thursday's raid involves the latest of several recent arrests of high-
level drug smugglers in Arizona.

On Sept. 15, ICE and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office arrested a
suspected leader and five other members of a drug-smuggling
organization after executing search warrants in Chandler, Mesa and
Maricopa. ICE officials said that organization was responsible for
transporting tons of marijuana through Arizona every month.

Vincent Picard, an ICE spokesman, would not say whether the six
people arrested in September were connected to those arrested Thursday.

On Sept. 30, state Attorney General Tom Horne also announced the
arrests of 17 members of a large-scale cocaine-smuggling
organization. He said the group was responsible for smuggling more
than 1,300 kilograms of cocaine into the United States since April
valued at up to $34 million.

Horne said prosecutors from his office participated in the
investigation that led to Thursday's raid. He said his office is
giving "the highest priority" to breaking up drug-smuggling
organizations operating in Arizona.

17 arrested in Arizona drug-smuggling case
Oct. 13, 2011 03:45 PM
The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team

Federal and local authorities arrested 17 suspected smugglers on
Thursday and seized nearly 1,000 pounds of marijuana in a multi-city
raid focused on dismantling the Casa Grande drug-smuggling organization.

Authorities also confiscated 12 weapons, 1,000 rounds of ammunition
and $35,000 in the Phoenix area.

The operation, which began in the morning, was headed by U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security
Investigations and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

ICE officials said the operation focused on dismantling the Casa
Grande drug-smuggling organization, which was centered in Casa
Grande. The group specialized in moving drugs from the border through
western Arizona and into Phoenix. Six search warrants were served in
Casa Grande. Two were served in Stanfield and one each in Phoenix,
Tucson, Marana and on the Gila River Nation.

Authorities serving a warrant near 107th Avenue and Indian School
Road in Phoenix found 800 pounds of drugs, according to federal

Authorities suspect the organization smuggles up to 50,000 pounds of
marijuana a month through Arizona, ICE said.

The Homeland Security Investigations unit of ICE and PCSO have been
investigating the organization for more than a year.

"We appreciate the assistance of our federal law enforcement partners
with this large scale investigation," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu
said in a prepared statement. "Together we were able to disrupt a
major drug smuggling operation which in turn has had a significant
effect on the Mexican drug cartel behind it. We will continue to
bring the heavy hand of enforcement to those who think they can
smuggle drugs or humans through Pinal County."

The investigation was conducted by the Pinal County Drug Task Force,
a partnership between HSI and the PCSO funded by the Arizona High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety; the U.S. Border Patrol; U.S.
Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine; the Drug
Enforcement Administration; the Arizona Attorney General's Office;
the U.S. Attorney's Office; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Pima
County Sheriff's Office; and the police departments from Marana,
Florence, Coolidge, Casa Grande, Maricopa, Gila River, Phoenix and
Eloy assisted with executing the search warrants and arresting
suspected smugglers.

Read more:

Warrants served in big drug-smuggling operation by
(October 13th, 2011 @ 9:43am) Policy >>

PHOENIX -- Federal and local authorities served search and arrest
warrants in Phoenix and Pinal County Thursday as part of a suspected
drug-smuggling operation, according to The Arizona Republic.
Few details were available.

Authorities said Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Pinal
County Sheriff's Office were serving the warrants on a large drug
smuggling operation. Several warrants reportedly were being sered in
Casa Grande and possibly others in Florence.

Authorities served a warrant near 107th Avenue and Indian School Road
in Phoenix where 800 pounds of drug was found, according to federal

More information was expected to be released later Thursday.

Phoenix, Pinal County drug warrants being served
Oct. 13, 2011 10:10 AM
The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team

Federal and local authorities are serving search and arrest warrants
in Phoenix and Pinal County on a suspected drug smuggling operation.

Few details were immediately available, but a source said Immigration
and Customs Enforcement agents and Pinal County sheriff's deputies --
with aid from other law enforcement agencies -- have arrested more
than a dozen people in a systematic takedown that began about 5:30
a.m. in Phoenix, Florence, Casa Grande and unincorporated Pinal County.

Authorities serving a warrant near 107th Avenue and Indian School
Road in Phoenix found 800 pounds of drugs, according to federal

More information was expected to be released later Thursday

Agents seize 2,600 pounds of pot in 2 busts
Posted: Oct 13, 2011 11:37 AM MST Updated: Oct 13, 2011 11:53 AM MST
By Steve Stout - email

Border Patrol agents seized more than 2,600 pounds of marijuana worth
more than $1 million in two separate busts Wednesday night, according
to an agency news release.

Ajo station agents found 2,014 pounds estimated at $1,007,000 in a
Chevrolet Suburban that was reported stolen last in Goodyear.

Further south at the Lukeville port, agents using remote surveillance
technology caught five people attempting to smuggle 13 bundles
weighing 619 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. The estimated value
was $309,500.

Agents said the five people admitted to being Mexican citizens and
were taken into custody to face prosecution on federal drug charges.

Read more:

2 arrested as more than 1,000 rounds seized in Reynosa
October 13, 2011 8:01 AM
Ildefonso Ortiz
The Monitor

McALLEN — Mexican authorities announced the arrest of two men in
connection with an attempt to move more than 1,000 rounds of
ammunition into Reynosa.

Jesus Israel Toledano Arredondo and Luis Alberto Betancourt Ramirez
were arrested earlier this week and charged with possession of
restricted firearms and ammunition, according to information released
by Mexico's Attorney General's Office.

The seizure took place when the men rode a Ford Windstar from Hidalgo
into Reynosa and were sent to a secondary inspection. There,
authorities noticed a flat-screen television and speakers that
weighed more than usual.

A search of the items revealed a .40-caliber pistol with two
magazines and 50 rounds of ammunition, and 1,000 rounds of ammunition
for AR-15 assault rifles.


Ildefonso Ortiz covers law enforcement and general assignments for
The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4437.

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