Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, June 14, 2002


Page 3


Drug Busts Net Dozens of Arrests in Nationwide Effort Against Mexican Drug Cartel; Cooley Says 38 More at Large


By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer


Four Los-Angeles-based drug trafficking cells for the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix cartel suffered a crippling blow yesterday when raids in Southern California and across the nation resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of illegal drugs and firearms, law enforcement authorities said.

Nearly 400 officers and agents served search and arrest warrants at 20 Los Angeles locations and 10 other Southern California sites, targeting major Mexican drug transporters, officials said at a news conference at the District Attorney’s Office.

Warrants were also served simultaneously in New York, Arizona, Minnesota and Connecticut and provisional arrest warrants were executed in Mexico targeting high level associates of the Arellano-Felix Organization.

The AFO, reputed to be one of the most powerful, violent, and aggressive trafficking groups in the world, is believed to have directed tons of cocaine and marijuana as well as large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine through Tijuana and on to distributors in California and throughout the country over the past 20 years. More than 300 murders are believed to have been carried out at the direction of AFO associates.

The Los Angeles Police Department arrested at least 32 people in yesterday’s raids, including Juan Ramon Camacho and Rosario Uriarte, who are alleged to be kingpins of Los Angeles drug-trafficking operations connected to the AFO. District Attorney Steve Cooley said 38 suspects still remain at large. The raids and search for fugitives were ongoing yesterday.

The raids were part of Operation Vice Grip, a nationwide investigation effort to strike at the heart of the violent gang, which included the District Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, the Sheriff’s Department, along with 23 other law enforcement agencies, Cooley said.

The arrests are a result of a two-year investigation initiated by the LAPD’s Narcotics and Metropolitan divisions, and the work of a number of other agencies, Cooley said. The arrests involved networks in Los Angeles that shipped drugs to Boston; Newark, N.J.; New York City; Cincinnati and Minneapolis. Forty-two wiretaps were used to trace the organization’s chain of command from the high and midlevel associates down to the street and back up again, LAPD Cpt. James Voge said.

“A poison that is affecting our children has been removed from the streets,” interim Los Angeles Police Chief Martin Pomeroy commented.

AFO suffered a setback in February with the death of top enforcer Ramon Arellano Felix, who was shot by police, and the capture of his brother, Benjamin, who oversaw daily operations, a month later, but officials said the loss of the brothers is hardly enough to stop the gang from trafficking drugs.

“The Arellano-Felix cartel was gravely wounded when we took out the chief brothers, Benjamin and Ramon, but the rest of the organization is still trying to hold on to power,” DEA Director Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “We are committed to finishing the cartel, severing its ties in the United States, and bringing to justice those responsible for flooding our streets with cocaine, heroine and violence.”

Since Operation Vice Grip began in January 2000, law enforcement agencies in 26 cities and 18 states have investigated and dismantled AFO cells. Not counting yesterday’s arrests and seizures, the investigation has resulted in the arrest of more than 234 people and the seizure of $13.9 million in narcotics proceeds and 13.5 tons of cocaine, 46 pounds of methamphetamine and more than 4,700 pounds of marijuana, Michele Leonhart, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Los Angeles field division, said.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company