Cartel crackdown snares 3 locals
Feds hit violent Mexican crime ring; 300 arrested
Several men have been arrested in Mesa County on drug-related charges in connection to what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday called the largest single strike at a Mexican drug cartel operating in the United States.
Authorities in Denver on Thursday announced federal charges against 11 men arrested or wanted on suspicion of trafficking significant quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine in Western Colorado.
Holder said the arrests of more than 300 people Tuesday and Wednesday were aimed at the U.S. operations of the La Familia cartel.
Holder said La Familia is the newest and most violent of Mexico’s five drug cartels.
Raul Avita-Arellano, 59, Jose Gonzalez-Zuniga, 43, and Jesus Hernandez-Corona, 27, were arrested earlier this week in Mesa County and booked on suspicion of distribution of a controlled substance and conspiracy. Arrest affidavits for the three men were ordered sealed.
A judge Wednesday ordered each held on $250,000 bond at the Mesa County Jail. Federal immigration authorities have placed holds on Gonzalez-Zuniga and Hernandez-Corona as suspected illegal immigrants. The holds prevent the men from posting bond.
Jim Schrant, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Grand Junction, said he could not confirm or deny the three men were tied to La Familia. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver said in a news release that three defendants suspected of links to the group were arrested late Tuesday, and are being held on state charges.
Federal authorities Thursday said 11 men are suspected of operating on the group’s behalf in Western Colorado; six of them have been arrested, and five are still wanted.
Schrant said the local investigation started in August 2008, netting just over 8 kilograms of cocaine, 3 pounds of meth and $313,785 in cash.
Nationally, nearly 12 tons of various drugs have been recovered, in addition to $32.8 million in cash.
Holder said the national operation involved more than 3,000 federal agents and police who made arrests in 38 cities, from Boston to Seattle and Tampa, Fla., to St. Paul, Minn., in 19 states.
A New York grand jury has indicted alleged cartel leader Servando Gomez-Martinez.
In July, after a dozen Mexican police officers were found murdered, officials say Gomez-Martinez publicly proclaimed his membership in La Familia and said the cartel was locked in a battle with Mexican police.
La Familia, which U.S. officials have said is based in the state of Michoacan, in southwestern Mexico, has a vast network pumping drugs into United States, specializing in methamphetamine.
DEA head Michele Leonhart said the group’s power has grown quickly, in part due to its quasi-religious background. DEA officials say the cartel professes a “Robin Hood mentality” of aiding the poor by stealing from the rich. Some drug proceeds are used to give bibles and money to the poor, according to investigators.
Holder on Thursday pledged to keep hitting La Familia and the cartels responsible for a wave of bloodshed in Mexico.
“To the extent that they do grow back, we have to work with our Mexican counterparts to cut off the heads of these snakes, to get at the heads of the cartels, indict them, try them, if they’re in Mexico, extradite them to the United States,” Holder said during a news conference.