Feds Say Indian Reservation Used As Gateway
CBS 5 News
A nine-month investigation has shut down a major drug and weapons smuggling operation in Southern Arizona, authorities said.
They said the group used the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation as a thoroughfare to move drugs, guns and people in and out of the U.S.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced the arrests and indictments of 21 people on Thursday.
There are still 25 suspects at large. They are members of the Jesus Valencia Rodriguez organization, which started in 2008, authorities said. The leader of the group is believed to be hiding in Mexico. Horne told CBS 5 News that Rodriguez is the gate keeper for the Sinaloan Cartel's Paez-Soto cell.
The group used vehicle compartments, concealed tire loads and spotters with cell phones to move their cargo through the area. Agents said the group moved through the San Miguel Gate area on the reservation, a remote area with a small fence that marks the border.
In early 2010, 41 assault weapons were seized in the area as they were en route from Phoenix to Mexico, according to Horne. The Tohono O'Odham Police Department assisted in the investigation.
"We will not tolerate the transport of illegal narcotics into the United States through the Tohono O'Odham Nation," said Tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. "We are committed to protecting our tribal members and the security of the United States."
Since 2008, more than 150 drug seizures involving about 28,000 pounds of marijuana have been linked to the group, Horne said.
Investigators said the group will be indicted on a range of charges including illegally conducting a criminal enterprise, money laundering, human smuggling and transporting marijuana. Horne said the group was well organized and sophisticated, using "human spotters embedded in U.S. soil, night vision equipment and radio communication. "
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency led the nine-month investigation. Seven other agencies participated.