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UPDATED: Feds detail scope of national takedown of violent Mexican drug cartel

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Oct. 22, 2009 at 10:11 am |
October 22, 2009 11:47 am

Federal and local authorities are announcing the results today of a two-day nationwide takedown of several members of a violent Mexican drug cartel.

Among the nearly 1,200 individuals arrested in “Project Coronado,” 16 have been charged federally in Western Washington. The grand jury indictment against those 16 was unsealed Wednesday. Fourteen of those charged have been arrested. Two remain fugitives. Another four are charged by criminal complaint in federal court.

The 16, who live in King and Snohomish counties, California and Mexico, have been charged with methamphetamine, cocaine and money-laundering conspiracy charges.

A local DEA-led task force served search warrants to search 19 residences and 22 vehicles in Washington and California. They seized 28 pounds of meth, 10 kilos of cocaine, seven guns and about $200,000 in cash.

According to an FBI press release issued this morning, the nationwide takedown was the result of a 44-month investigation into the La Familia drug trafficking organization. Over two days, 303 people in 19 states have been arrested. Agents seized $3.4 million in U.S. currency, 729 pounds of meth, 62 kilograms of cocaine, 967 pounds of marijuana, 144 weapons and 109 vehicles. More than 3,000 agents and police officers participated in the arrests.

“This unprecedented, coordinated U.S. law enforcement action – the largest ever undertaken against a Mexican drug cartel – has dealt a significant blow to La Familia’s supply chain of illegal drugs, weapons and cash flow between Mexico and the United States,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in the FBI press release.

Federal authorities say La Familia is a violent cartel based in southwestern Mexico. The organization controls the drug manufacturing and distribution around that part of the country and the importation of vast quantities of cocaine and meth from Mexico to the United States.

“La Familia is philosophically opposed to the sale of methamphetamine to Mexicans, and instead supports its export to the United States for consumption by Americans,” the press release states.

Members of the cartel are heavily armed and have been suspected in murders, kidnappings and assaults.

In Washington, federal authorities say members of the cartel transported large quantities of meth and cocaine from California to the Puget Sound region for distribution.

Members of the cartel were under surveillance when they arranged drug deals and sold narcotics to an undercover officer. In one case, a defendant brought a 4-year-old child to a drug deal, according to a press release.

Many of the cars have secret compartments to carry drugs. Of the 11 vehicles seized locally Wednesday, three had secret compartments.

In total, “Project Coronado” has led to the arrests of 1,186 people and the seizure of $32.8 million in U.S. cash, 2,710 pounds of meth, 1,999 kilograms of cocaine, 29 pounds of heroin, 16,390 pounds of marijuana, 389 weapons and 269 vehicles.

“This organization, the newest of Mexican cartels, is directly responsible for a vast majority of the methamphetamine pouring into our country across our Southwest Border, and has had a hand in fueling the cycle of violence that is wracking Mexico today,” DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in the FBI press release.

This is not the first Mexican drug cartel to be busted in Western Washington.

In July, federal, state and local law enforcement officials announced they’d busted a large drug trafficking organization that was bringing methamphetamine and cocaine into Washington from Mexico and operating in parts of Pierce County.

They made 31 arrests and seized $60,000 in cash, 22 vehicles and nearly two dozens gun as part of a 14-month investigation into the Oseguera-Chavez drug trafficking organization. Several of the guns had been reported stolen.

It was the second trafficking organization dismantled in the Puget Sound region by federal and local authorities in less than two years.

In April 2008, federal and local authorities announced they’d dismantled members of the Barragan drug trafficking organization that had been operating in Western Washington. They arrested 41 members of the organization and seized 89 pounds of meth, 50 guns and $255,000 in cash during a 14-month investigation.

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