PHOENIX -- Eight men, including a former member of the Sinaloa Cartel, have been arrested in what the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is calling a drug dealing and kidnapping operation.
According to investigators with MCSO, the ringleader of the drug smuggling operation is 40-year-old Edward Alvarez of Litchfield Park, Ariz.
Alvarez is a former Sinaloa Cartel member according to the Department of Justice. He was arrested on March 25, 2013 following an incident on March 24, 2013.
Investigators said three people met with Alvarez's group that day to purchase drugs only to find out that they were on the wrong end of a so-called "drug rip" in which they were being robbed of their cash.
Emmanuel Acosta, 26, Moises Saldana-Gallegos, 30, and Searn Jerome Simmons, Jr., 43, had arranged to purchase 180 pounds of marijuana from Alvarez and his associates.
Those men are residents of Phoenix, El Mirage and Tampa, Florida, respectfully.
They were zip-tied, physically assaulted and thrown in vehicle trunks by assailants wearing police body armor, badges, ballistic helmet and a Phoenix Police Dept. patch.
When Acosta managed to escape, the other two were released.
A spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said Acosta escaped from one of the vehicles while it was moving. A bystander took Acosta to a hospital for his injuries. Hospital staff notified authorities because they were suspicious about the circumstances and that led to an investigation.
When Alvarez was arrested at his Litchfield Park home on North Almanza Drive, Sheriff’s detectives discovered large amounts of cash hidden in a wall, several weapons, and an array of police badges and other law enforcement identifiers.
Sheriff’s detectives believe that one more member of the Alvarez group who participated in the crime is still at large and has yet to be named.
Brothers, Robert Varner, 20 and Brandon Varner, 19, both of Tolleson, Ariz. were the last two arrests to date in the case. They were taken into custody on April 12.
Alvarez had celebrated the $60,000 to $95,000 theft by taking the "rip crew" out for pizza and drinks, according to investigators.
The men who were robbed are members of the West Valley gang known as Varrio Tolleson Chicanos, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
“Drug trafficking is a violent as well as illegal activity,” said Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “During these precarious times for our nation it is troubling to learn that these criminals are impersonating law enforcement. We need to remain ever vigilant and alert.”