Authorities dismantle Casa Grande drug-smuggling organization


by Jennifer Thomas

Posted on October 13, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 13 at 5:36 PM

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PHOENIX -- Numerous bundles of marijuana were removed from a West Valley home during a multi-agency law enforcement operation Thursday morning.

Authorities executed 12 search warrants and arrested 17 suspected smugglers in central and southern Arizona during the operation, which was headed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office (PCSO).

Agents and officers seized more than 935 pounds of marijuana, 12 weapons, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and $35,000, according to ICE spokesman Vincent Picard.

Six search warrants were served in Casa Grande, two in Stanfield and one each in Phoenix, Tucson, Marana and on the Gila River Nation.

Aerial video showed authorities at a home near 107th Avenue and Indian School Road at approximately 9 a.m. Bundles of marijuana were loaded into vehicles and hauled away.

Picard said HSI and PCSO have been investigating the Casa Grande drug-smuggling organization for more than a year and suspect that its members have been responsible for smuggling up to 50,000 pounds of marijuana a month through Arizona.

"With this operation, we've dealt a significant blow to the ability of drug smuggling organizations to move their narcotics through the West Desert into Phoenix," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Phoenix. "Our investigative partnership with PCSO is bearing fruit, bringing heightened enforcement pressure on organized criminal activity in Pinal County."

“We appreciate the assistance of our federal law enforcement partners with this large scale investigation," said Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. "Together we were able to disrupt a major drug smuggling operation which in turn has had a significant effect on the Mexican drug cartel behind it. We will continue to bring the heavy hand of enforcement to those who think they can smuggle drugs or humans through Pinal County.”

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