PHOENIX – Authorities have arrested 11 suspected members of a drug-trafficking organization linked to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel that used stash houses in Phoenix and Willcox.
On Tuesday, officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Border Patrol and the Internal Revenue Service announced the arrests of 11 of 13 suspected members of the Luis Armando Cruz drug trafficking organization (DTO).
Since Oct. 12, the Cruz DTO has been identified as the Phoenix-based transportation cell working for the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. The organization is responsible for coordinating importation of multi-thousand pounds of marijuana from Mexico, primarily through the Agua Prieta corridor, into New Mexico and Arizona and the smuggling of bulk drug proceeds back into Mexico, according to officials.
The Cruz DTO uses multiple load drivers and backpackers to facilitate drug transportation operations in the remote desert area near San Simon and Willcox for further delivery to Tucson and Phoenix, according to a news release from the DEA.
"DEA and its partners are successfully striking back at drug traffickers who use the Arizona corridor to move their drugs into the United States and their illicit proceeds back to Mexico," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. "This investigation identified a transportation cell that used human backpackers to smuggle thousands of pounds of marijuana across the Arizona/Mexico border. The message to these criminals should be clear -- use the cross border area at your own risk."
Following a 12-month multi-agency law enforcement investigation known as "Operation Kruz Control," federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducted simultaneous arrest and search warrants on suspected members of the drug trafficking organization and their stash houses in Phoenix and Willcox on Friday.
Agents seized 1,400 pounds of marijuana, seven rifles, two handguns, a shotgun, two homes, nine vehicles, an ATV quad and a bank account.
In addition to Friday's enforcement action, officials said "Operation Kruz Control" has led to the seizure of $200,000, 6,500 pounds of marijuana, six vehicles and a King Quad ATV.
On Dec. 11, a federal grand jury in Phoenix returned a seven-count indictment against Luis Armando Cruz, 39; Carlos Antonio Garcia, 31; Sergio Garcia-Morales, 32; Alma Dolores Escalante-Figueroa (Cruz's wife), 39; Felipe Escalante-Reyes, 22; Carime Itsel Reyes-Escalante, 19; Carlos Ramirez, 42; Sergio Robert Ramos-Moreno, 19; Trevon Xavier Marcus-Bondae, 18; Maxine Carter, 25; and Jeremiah Steven Woolsey, 24.
Charges include conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
On Monday, all 11 defendants were arraigned in federal court and remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals.
Since last December, the investigation has linked multiple drug seizures totaling over 27,000 pounds of marijuana to the Cruz DTO.