(Phoenix, Ariz. - Dec. 15, 2010) Attorney General Terry Goddard today announced the first blow struck by his newly created Border Crimes Enforcement Section. Eighteen members of a major cross-border marijuana smuggling ring have been indicted in Tucson. The group is alleged to have smuggled large amounts of marijuana and cash drug proceeds through the San Miguel gate on the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation.
The investigation into cartel operations in southern Arizona began earlier this year and included the Tucson Police Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The investigation revealed Mexican drug suppliers operating out of Nogales, Sonora, smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana through Tucson stash houses to other cities. The investigation uncovered marijuana being transported from Mexico through both the Nogales port of entry and the Tohono O'odham Reservation. The cartels at times used uniformed U.S. military personnel and children to avert police suspicion from the drugs and money being smuggled.
“This case illustrates the actual crime problem on the border, apart from all the sound bites and slogans,” Goddard said. “It shows cartel members moving drugs north and illegal cash south across the border. “This case is precisely the type of criminal prosecution I wanted when the Border Enforcement Team was created this year at the Attorney General’s Office. I am proud that they developed a case of this significance and complexity in such a short time. The involvement of uniformed military personnel and children show the extent to which the cartels will go to pursue their illegal schemes.”
Among those indicted is Travis Ray Lopez, 23, a private first class in Army Reserves, who is accused of using his military status and uniform to help transport drugs and money through check points on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. His last known address was in Sells, Ariz., on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Anyone with information about his whereabouts should call a confidential tip line in Tucson that pays for crime tips at 88-CRIME. Outside of Tucson, people can call collect at 520 88-CRIME. All information received will be passed on to investigators.
The defendants include both U.S. citizens and Mexican citizens, including some with resident alien status. More than $300,000 in cash from safe deposit boxes and several vehicles and properties in Tucson have been seized as part of the investigation.
A copy of the indictment, redacted to identify only those defendants who have been served, is attached. For more information, contact Steve Wilson at (602) 542-8351.