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70 tied to Mexico drug cartel busted in Arizona

More than 70 people were arrested in raids that dismantled a narcotics trafficking network suspected of smuggling nearly $2 billion worth of drugs through Arizona, officials said.
Image: Guns and bundles of marijuana seized from the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel during \"Operation Pipeline Express\" are displayed at a news conference in Phoenix
Seized guns and bundles of marijuana are displayed at a news conference in Phoenix, Ariz., on Monday.Joshua Lott / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Law enforcement authorities have arrested over 70 people in raids that dismantled a narcotics trafficking network suspected of smuggling nearly $2 billion worth of drugs through Arizona's western desert, officials said on Monday.

The announcement in Phoenix caps a 17-month investigation culminating in a series of three "large-scale enforcement actions" tied to the probe, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the Pinal County Sheriff's Department.

During last week's series of raids alone, authorities seized more than two tons of marijuana, 19 weapons and nearly $200,000 in cash.

Intelligence gathered as part of "Operation Pipeline Express" found the drug-smuggling ring was tied to Mexico's Sinaloan cartel and has been in existence for at least five years.

Authorities estimate the drug operation during that time smuggled more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the United States.

Illicit proceeds generated from those drugs were estimated at nearly $2 billion, authorities said.

Drugs were smuggled from Mexico into Arizona by car, plane, on foot, and through tunnels.

The cartel is headquartered in the northwestern state of Sinaloa on Mexico's Pacific coast, an area home to big marijuana and opium poppy plantations and considered the cradle of Mexican narcotics trafficking since the 1960s.

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The cartel is believed to handle 65 percent of all drugs illegally transported to the United States, drug experts say.

Law enforcement officials are still looking for dozens of people in connection with the operation.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched his military campaign against the cartels after he took office in late 2006.