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Massive' smuggling ring dismantled in Arizona

A deputy's routine traffic stop helped authorities break up what they say is one of the biggest drug-smuggling operations uncovered in Arizona, which they estimate moved $2 billion of narcotics across the border in just five years.

Investigators announced at a news conference Monday the seizure of more than 30 tons of marijuana and the arrests of 76 people suspected of working for Mexico's notorious Sinaloan Cartel.

Matt Allen, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, said the criminal network is "one of the most prolific drug-smuggling organizations ever uncovered in the state."

"This is a historic drug bust," added Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Babeu said the investigation, known as Operation Pipeline Express, began in June 2010 when one of his deputies pulled over a vehicle near Stanfield that was loaded with 1,500 pounds of marijuana. Intelligence gathered during that stop led to a massive criminal investigation involving about two dozen law-enforcement agencies.

Allen said the smuggling ring moved an estimated $33 million in marijuana, cocaine and heroin into the United States monthly. He said those arrested came from all levels of the organization, from drug-carrying "mules" to border scouts and bosses in Phoenix who organized the trafficking.

The Attorney General's Office identified one ringleader as Heraclio "Lako" Aguirre Navarro, 45, who was arrested Oct. 13 near Casa Grande on charges of racketeering and the possession and transportation of marijuana for sale.

Authorities said the ring, built around cells based in Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa, used backpackers and vehicles to run narcotics across the border and through the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, a notorious smuggling route.

Investigators seized 108 semiautomatic rifles and other weapons during the probe, which Babeu said was completed without an exchange of gunfire.

On Sunday, authorities carried out the third in a series of major sweeps in the case, making 22 arrests.

Attorney General Tom Horne said about half of those in custody are Mexican nationals. He said six suspects arrested early in the case already have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 1 to 3 1/2 years.

"Today we have dealt a significant blow to a Mexican criminal enterprise that has been responsible for poisoning our communities," Horne said. "These drugs not only destroy lives, they create an environment of violent criminality that ensnares innocent victims. . . . I find it completely unacceptable that Arizona neighborhoods are treated as a trading floor for narcotics."

Babeu said the organization's size and productivity belie assertions by the Obama administration that the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than ever.

"We in Arizona continue to stand and fight against the Mexican drug cartels, who think they own this place," he said. "While this is a historic drug bust, sadly, this represents only a fraction of what my deputies face every day."

Don't know what more i can tell you, This area is a major corridor for drugs and illegals, has been for yrs,
the news just stated that several of the seized guns were linked to Fast and furious, and that one recently released deported mule was rearrested with a huge haul..

the sheriff deserves our praise and support. I hope he has enough jail cells!
We have a president who brags about and takes credit for sending troops overseas and having a scourge killed for crimes against humanity. Why cant we have a shoot on sight order against these drug smugglers. What they do has more of a negative impact on the lives of US citizens than some camel jockey in the middle east ever did. If we just started shooting and leave'em lay where they fall, that might send a message to the next guy coming up the trail. A one and a half to three year sentence in our prisons is not nearly enough to be a deterrent. Our prisons are better than alot of the homes the lower level "mules" have. We have to make those more scared of us than they are their boss.
Was sheriff Joe left out of the loop. The article states that one of the towns was Maricopa. Is that in his jurisdiction. Another thought could the fast and furious been helpful in this investigation by targeting the ones getting the guns. I am not defending any one side political just asking. Good job to all law enforcement involved.j
Another thought could the fast and furious been helpful in this investigation by targeting the ones getting the guns.

IF they had actually tracked the guns in some way it would have been helpful..

but by most accounts the feds lost control and did not track the guns, their goal appeared to be to find the gun at crime scenes and link them to point of purchase..

then once they established guns were running south they would add more laws to keep them out of criminals hands.. (an everyone else's hands as well)

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