- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2011

The suspected leader of a drug-smuggling organization accused of moving thousands of pounds of Mexican marijuana into the Phoenix metropolitan area was arrested Thursday following a major multi-agency enforcement operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.

Jose Sarinana-Placencia, 28, and five suspected members of his organization are facing state and federal drug smuggling and weapons charges. The arrests were made after teams of law enforcement officers executed seven search warrants early Thursday at locations in three Arizona cities — Chandler, Mesa and Maricopa. In addition to the arrests, ICE agents and sheriff’s deputies seized 10 weapons, including a Mac-10 pistol and two ballistic vests.

Sarinana’s smuggling organization is suspecting of moving multiple tons of marijuana every month. ICE and the sheriff's office opened an investigation into the organization in February. Before Thursday’s operation, the investigation had led to the seizure of approximately 3,000 pounds of marijuana, more than $300,000 in cash, nearly three pounds of cocaine and 22 weapons.

“From every indication, this organization has been a major player in moving narcotics smuggled in from Mexico to the Phoenix area,” said ICE Special Agent in Charge Matt Allen. “By teaming up with PCSO on this complex investigation, we have been able to expose this network and shut it down.”

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said the drug cartels of Mexico are trying “harder and harder everyday to move their illegal drugs throughout the United States.

“This investigation is a prime example of the cooperative efforts needed by federal, state, county, city, and tribal law enforcement agencies to combat their operations,” he said. “The Pinal County Sheriff's Office will continue to work with our fellow law enforcement partners during this ongoing war.”

Maricopa, Az., located about 40 miles south of Phoenix, has become a favorite drug corridor for Mexican marijuana and cocaine, and has brought with it a rise in crime in the city of 43,000. Undercover police officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety were assaulted in the city in March 2010 when they attempted to stop a stolen truck. One man charged in the case later was found to have weapons purchased illegally as part of the federal government’s controversial “Fast and Furious” undercover gun investigation.

The Arizona officers reported that their cars were rammed and they were threatened with a Beretta pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle. Angel Hernandez-Daz, 48, a Mexican national, was arrested in the case.

Last December, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed south of Tucson and two firearms from the Fast and Furious program were discovered at that site.

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