Authorities say they have busted up a drug trafficking cell in Tempe that, in adddition to being linked to the Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico, has received shipments of drugs from South and Central America, only to have domestic traffickers distribute the drugs to all corners of the nation.
Tempe police and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s field office in Phoenix announced Friday that after a six-month investigation into the trafficking ring, agents performed 20 arrests, including alleged ringleaders Norberto Meza Montoya, Leonel Galvez and Jose Alonzo Rodriguez Rosas.
At least three of the arrests made were of Tempe suspects, according to Tempe police.
The trio was overseeing coordination and distribution of drug shipments in Arizona after loads were transported through hidden compartments in commercial tractor trailers coming across the Mexican border into the U.S., according to Ramona Sanchez, a DEA spokeswoman.
A Cessna 421 aircraft said to be intended for transporting drug shipments from Central and South America into Mexico before flying into the U.S. and transporting cash payments back into those countries also was seized from a hangar in a small air field south of Tucson, Sanchez said.
“We’ve cut off the head of the snake,” said Tempe police Lt. Noah Johnson, of the department’s special investigations unit. “This definitely makes it a lot harder for our children and residents to get drugs.”
Tempe Police Detectives began investigating the case after learning of possible drop houses in the 1200 block of West Jeanine Drive and the 1200 block South McClintock Drive in Tempe.
In following up, Tempe police said detectives were able to obtain evidence of a drug trafficking organization they believe delivered illegal drugs to Tempe, as well as other customers in New York, Alabama, California, North and South Carolina and other parts of the country.
Doug Coleman, DEA Special Agent in Charge, said the bust was part of an effort called “Operation Nayarit Stampede” aimed at attacking a drug trafficking organization that stretched across the Mexico border and into Arizona.
“DEA and our partners have taken large quantities of drugs, millions of dollars in drug trafficker assets, and powerful weapons off our streets,” Coleman said. “We will continue to do everything in our power to bring to justice those who try to poison our communities.”
After executing 14 warrants that included raids at numerous stash houses in Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe, agents seized $2.4 million in cash, three tons of marijuana, 30 pounds of methamphetamine, 14 firearms, 10 vehicles and the aircraft.
Cocaine also was seized during the investigation, but not in Tempe, according to authorities.
The word “Nayarit” is the name of one of the key Mexican states where the Sinaloa drug cartel is known to be deep-rooted — in addition to Sinaloa itself — Sanchez said.
The drugs that arrived in the U.S. also were smuggled in the hidden compartments above bunk beds of commercial tractor trailers crossing between the Mexico-U.S. border and stored at a number of houses throughout Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe, Sanchez said. Most of the suspects arrested at the stash houses were apprehended without incident, but at home, a number of the suspects ran but all were caught, Johnson said.
A specific number of homes where the drugs were being stored was not available as the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected, Sanchez said.
“These guys spread their risk,” Sanchez. “They’re not about to store their drugs in one location because if law enforcement finds out where they are storing their drugs, they always have more drugs at another location.
“There is no communication between the drug runners in Mexico and the domestic ones here. It makes it extremely difficult for authorities to connect the drug activity here to Mexico and South America.”
Assistance and support for the investigation was provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Phoenix Police Department, ASU Police Department, HIDTA (High intensity drug trafficking area team), Maricopa County Drug Suppression Task Force, Attorney General’s Office, Tucson Police Department, DEA Nogales, DEA offices in Alabama and Phoenix, Pima County Sheriff, Mesa Police Department, and Surprise Police Department.
“This operation demonstrated a collaborative effort by state and federal law enforcement agencies,” Tempe police Chief Tom Ryff said. “As chief of police I am committed to working in partnership with the community, state and federal law enforcement agencies to curtail drug trafficking in the City of Tempe and throughout the Valley.”
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