(Phoenix, Ariz. - Oct. 26, 2009) Attorney General Terry Goddard, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth W. Kempshall today announced the takedown of a violent drug trafficking organization that is believed to have smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana across the U.S. - Mexico border and into Pinal County over the past several years. This is believed to be the first such top-to-bottom take down of a cross-border drug trafficking organization operating out of Pinal County.
Twenty-one individuals have been indicted and numerous arrested on charges including possession and transportation of marijuana for sale, money laundering, conspiracy and illegally conducting an enterprise as a result of Operation “Los Tusa,” which concluded in recent days with numerous arrests and seizures of marijuana, cash and weapons. Among those arrested was the alleged leader of the organization, Robert Hernandez, 38, of Arizona City.
"Coordinated law enforcement that attacks organized crime from the top down is the key to securing our border and keeping Arizona safe from smuggling violence," Goddard said. "I am committed to working with our law enforcement partners to fight back against the cartels and the violence they perpetrate in our communities."
Operation Los Tusa began in December of 2008 when a routine traffic stop by a Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy in the Maricopa/Stanfield area led to a search of the car and the seizure of $228,569 in cash.
Subsequent investigation by the Pinal County Narcotics Task Force and DEA revealed what investigators allege was an elaborate drug smuggling organization that brought marijuana across the U.S. - Mexico border, through the Tohono O'Odham Nation and into Pinal County.
Investigators believe the organization had been operating in Pinal County for at least three years, smuggling thousands of pounds of marijuana per year. They further alleged that the drugs were distributed from Pinal County stash houses to cities across the nation.
The organization allegedly smuggled the marijuana across the Arizona desert from the border to southern Pinal County using a network of vehicles and individual walkers who carried backpacks filled with 50 - 100 pounds of marijuana each. The walkers were allegedly met by drivers in southern Pinal County who transported the drugs to stash houses throughout the county for subsequent sale and distribution.
Several of the lead defendants were charged with use of minors to commit drug offenses, for allegedly recruiting Pinal County residents as young as high school students to meet the walkers and drive the marijuana to stash houses.
In addition, several lead defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit armed robbery relating to their alleged scheme to impersonate law enforcement officers in order to rob and possibly murder competing drug traffickers in the southern Arizona desert. Among the items seized in the takedown of the organization was a sedan that appears to have been altered to look like a police vehicle and contained a hat with “FBI” written on the front.
“Drugs and violence go hand in hand. This deadly combination must be met with combined law enforcement expertise at the local, state and federal levels,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth W. Kempshall. “Today’s operation is a major strike against a violent drug trafficking organization responsible for smuggling multi-hundred pound shipments of marijuana from Mexico into Southern Arizona. DEA shares with its law enforcement partners the goal of completely destroying this organization and any others like it that plague our streets and communities and putting them where they belong-behind bars.”
Goddard, Babeu, and Kempshall all noted that the success in Operation Los Tusa was the result of the rapid and coordinated responses of the Pinal County Narcotics Task Force, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, DEA and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
"Pinal County has always been a haven for drug and human smuggling. This historic take down of criminal traffickers should serve as a signal of what our citizens and criminals can expect to continue to take place,” said Sheriff Paul Babeu. “This investigation was fully developed by local law enforcement and due to the size and scope of this criminal organization; we sought the assistance of the DEA and the Attorney General’s Office. We are also appreciative of the assistance of the Mesa, Tempe and DPS SWAT teams who joined our PCSO multi-agency SWAT team during the execution of the high risk search warrants."
Babeu continued by stating, "I thank all our law enforcement partners for their amazing support and ask them to standby for further operations. Together, we made sure the good guys won a big victory against those who break our laws and corrupt our society with drugs. We shall continue to attack criminal operations and take not only their drugs - but their cash, their vehicles, their houses and send them to prison."
To date, Operation Los Tusa has resulted in the seizure of $418,640 in U.S. currency, nearly 4,000 pounds of marijuana, 21 vehicles and several assault rifles. It has also led to the identification and closure of multiple stash houses in Pinal County.
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