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Iraqi ethnic group tied to major drug, gun ring

- Associated Press - Thursday, August 18, 2011

SAN DIEGO Federal officials said Thursday they've taken down a drug- and weapons-trafficking ring involving members of a U.S. Iraqi ethnic community and a major Mexican drug cartel that was caught selling large amounts of drugs, guns and grenades.

Police in El Cajon, Calif., said they've arrested more than 60 people in the takedown of the ring, whose members are suspected of being affiliated with the Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate, based in Detroit.

Smugglers were shipping drugs from El Cajon to Iraqis in Detroit, authorities said.

El Cajon and federal police said they have seized 18 pounds of methamphetamine, narcotics, cocaine and other drugs; more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana; $630,000 in cash; four improvised explosive devices; and more than 30 guns, including assault rifles.

In April, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) undercover agent was shown a hand grenade by an immigrant and was told additional grenades were available from a Mexican military source.

The cartel, Sinaloa, is Mexico's most powerful drug cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who has become one of the world's richest and most wanted men since he escaped from a Mexican prison 10 years ago. There are signs the cartel also is expanding its trafficking of methamphetamine as the Mexican government has made major hits on rival gangs that traditionally dominated the synthetic-drug trade.

William Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the DEA's San Diego field division, said the Sinaloa cartel was supplying the drugs to the ring and the investigation resulted in the seizure of 3,500 pounds of marijuana from the cartel. The Iraqis were believed to be planning to distribute a portion of that load, Mr. Sherman said.

Officials said they think the firearms and explosives were destined for the local market and not to supply Mexican traffickers across the border.

Detroit and San Diego have the largest and second-largest populations of Chaldeans in the United States. Chaldeans are descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia what is now Iraq and many have fled to escape persecution for their Christianity.

Officials say the Chaldean syndicate has a long-standing relationship with the Sinaloa cartel. Many Chaldeans passed through Tijuana, Mexico, on their way to the United States, helped by Mexican migrant smugglers, authorities said.

The investigation focused on an Iraqi social club in El Cajon that authorities said is a hub of criminal activity conducted by Iraqi organized crime. Crimes including attempted murder, sales of methamphetamine and marijuana, gambling and illegal firearms sales have been reported at the club.

El Cajon police have for years received complaints from neighbors and the wives of men who attended the club. Authorities said the managers of the club are aware of the criminal activity and demand a cut of the money. Armed guards reportedly are provided during high-stakes card games.

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