A broad-ranging, multi-jurisdictional operation designed to distrupt the U.S. narcotic-transportation infrastructure of Mexican cartels has led to the arrests of 2,266 individuals, the seizure of more than 74.1 tons of illegal drugs and the capture of a high-value Mexican cartel leader, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced.
The 22-month investigation known as "Project Deliverance" involved 18 separate operations—encompasing more than 500 cases—that required the coordination of local patrol officers and deputies with federal agents. The DEA ran the operation out of its Special Operations Division center near D.C.
Patrol officers and deputies played a vital role in the operation, according to the DEA. In one instance, a patrol deputy arrested a subject who had a phone number written on a strip of paper that, when passed along to the DEA, resulted in a crucial lead involving the Sinaloa Cartel.
The project, with a central focus on the El-Paso-Juarez corridor, was meant to strike at the "shadow facilitators and transportation cells controlled by the major Mexican drug cartels," according to Michele Leonhart, DEA's acting administrator.
In addition to the 2,266 arrests, the operation resulted in the seizure of $154 million, 1,262 pounds of methamphetamine, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,410 pounds of heroin, 69 tons of marijuana, 501 weapons and 527 vehicles.
The narcotic transporters arrested in this operation either pick up their cargo in Mexico and drive it across the border or arrive at stash-house locations in the U.S. side.
To reach their customers, the narcotics are loaded into tractor trailers, charter or tour buses, SUVs or other passenger vehicles and sent to large metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles or Chicago.
Similar to the turf wars fought by street gangs for street-corner sales, cartels stake out markets in the U.S. for their product. The Gulf Cartel, for example, controls distribution to Atlanta, while the Sinaloa Cartel maintains a significant presence in Chicago. Most cartels maintain a presence in Los Angeles, Carl W. Pike, a DEA assistant special agent in charge, tells POLICE Magazine.
Cartels form alliances with street gangs such as the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, MS-13 or others for final distribution to dealers to sell to the street junkie. The drug shipments are usually divided into smaller portions when they arrive in metropolitan areas.
At the staging locations near the border, cash is packed in suitcases and ice chests and sent back to Mexico to enrich cartel leaders, according to a DEA spokesman.
Cooperation with Mexican law enforcement resulted in the May 30 arrest of Carlos Ramon Castro-Rocha, an alleged heroin trafficker who has been designated a high-priority narcotics target. Castro-Rocha, 36, is said to run a violent Sinaloa-based smuggling operation bearing his name.
Individuals indicted in the cases are charged with a variety of crimes, including: conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana; distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana; conspiracy to import narcotics into the U.S.; and other violations of federal law. Numerous defendants face forfeiture allegations as well.
More than 300 federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies contributed investigative and prosecutorial resources to Project Deliverance, many of which were through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Forces and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETFs).
The Special Operations Division is comprised of agents and analysts from the DEA, FBI, ICE, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service and ATF, as well as attorneys from the Criminal Division's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section.