Acting in coordination with a southwestern Arizona Native American tribe, the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 27 of 46 suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel who smuggled illegals and drugs through reservation land, the agency announced.
Members of the Jesus Valencia Rodriguez drug trafficking organization, who work on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel, now face charges of trafficking of marijuana, human smuggling, criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and related charges.
"These suspects used remote areas of the Tohono O'Odham Nation in Arizona to funnel drugs and humans into the United States, and to re-direct racketeering proceeds and weapons back into Mexico," according to Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. "This criminal enterprise was a well-organized operation that constantly worked against law enforcement interdiction efforts with sophisticated counter-surveillance methods, including using human spotters embedded on U.S. soil, night vision equipment and radio communication."
Jesus Valencia Rodriguez is suspected of organizing criminal activities for the Caborca-based Paez-Soto cell of the Sinaloa cartel since 2008. Valencia-Rodriguez is responsible for coordinating the importation of multi-ton quantities of marijuana and illegal aliens from Mexico into the U.S. through the San Miguel Gate area and the smuggling of bulk drug proceeds and assault weapons back into Mexico.
The San Miguel Gate area is a remote U.S./Mexico border location on the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation that allows tribal members to pass freely between the U.S. and Mexico. More than 150 drug seizures totaling approximately 28,000 pounds of marijuana (since May 2008) have been linked to the Valencia-Rodriguez trafficking organization.
In February of 2010, law enforcement officials also seized 41 assault weapons in the San Miguel vicinity that were en-route from Phoenix, Ariz., to Mexico. The Valencia-Rodriguez organization uses compartments in vehicles, ramped vehicle loads, concealed-tire loads, and backpackers to facilitate drug transportation operations in the remote desert area, according to the DEA.
"We will not tolerate the transport of illegal narcotics through the Tohono O'Odham Nation," according to Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'Odham Nation. "We are committed to protecting our tribal members and the security of the United States, and the Nation will continue to work in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies to ensure this type of illegal activity is stopped."