US: Mexican drug cartel smuggling ring dismantled

US: Mexican drug cartel smuggling ring dismantled Washington: US authorities have smashed a 70-member drug trafficking ring linked to Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel, responsible for smuggling over USD 33 million worth of narcotics each month into the country recent years.

The massive take-down of the drug trafficking network included arrests of Mexican and US suspects who allegedly smuggled more than 330 tonnes of illegal narcotics a year through the deserts in Arizona, officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

More than 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were involved in the 17-month multi-agency investigation called 'Operation Pipeline Express'.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday in Phoenix, law enforcement officials said the organisation was responsible for smuggling more than USD 33 million worth of drugs a month.

"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 said.

"I find it completely unacceptable that Arizona neighbuorhoods are treated as a trading floor for narcotics."

Officials say the ring, organised 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 was sold to distributors from multiple states nationwide, it was reported.

Law enforcement officials seized thousands of pounds of marijuana, cocaine and heroin in a series of raids. They also seized more than 100 weapons, including multiple assault rifles and ammunition.

Authorities say the organisation has been around for at least five years.

Officials say they "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 US, generating almost USD 2 billion in illicit proceeds."

The drugs were smuggled from Mexico across the border into Arizona by air and ground transportation using a variety of sophisticated techniques, the officials said.