Dozens of people accused of working for one of Mexico's largest drug cartels were arrested Wednesday in a multistate bust that netted more than $45 million worth of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, federal officials said.
At least some of the drugs were carried over the U.S.-Mexico border on a bridge made from sandbags partially submerged in the Colorado River outside of Yuma, Ariz., authorities said. All of the narcotics were sneaked into the country on the porous Southwest border exploited by cartel kingpin Victor Emilio Cazares-Gastellum.
In all, the 20-month sting, code-named Operation Imperial Emperor, so far has swept up 402 of the cartel's alleged lieutenants and foot soldiers, including 66 on Wednesday who were arrested in California, Arizona and Illinois.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was to announce the arrests at a news conference in San Diego. The investigation began in nearby El Centro, Calif.
Cazares-Gastellum, also known as Victor Emilio Cazares-Salazar, was indicted in the sting but not arrested, officials said. Authorities said his workers included U.S. citizens and Mexican nationals, who distributed the drugs in 23 states. They will face either federal or state charges.
Among the cache so far collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration:
- 27,229 pounds of marijuana.
- 9,512 pounds of cocaine.
- 705 pounds of methamphetamine.
- 227 pounds of pure methamphetamine, or "ice."
- 11 pounds of heroin.
- $6.1 million in property and assets.
- An estimated 100 weapons and 94 vehicles.
Authorities said the cartel shipped or drove metric tons of the drugs from Colombia and Venezuela to Mexico. From there, they were taken over the southwest border and broken down in Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities before being distributed nationwide.
The drugs were distributed in: Nevada, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington and Oregon.