- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A long-term federal investigation into a Mexican drug-trafficking organization and its U.S.-based distribution cells has resulted in more than 400 arrests nationwide, including 66 who were taken into custody yesterday in California, Arizona, New York and Illinois.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the multiagency probe known as “Operation Imperial Emperor” targeted the Mexico-based Victor Emilio Cazares-Gastellum drug cartel, which has been responsible for supplying multiton quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana monthly throughout the United States.

Mr. Gonzales said during a press conference in San Diego to announce the operation that the gang laundered millions of dollars of illicit profits.

“Today’s actions deal a significant blow to the Victor Emilio Cazares-Gastellum drug-trafficking organization,” Mr. Gonzales said. “These arrests demonstrate what can be achieved when domestic and international law-enforcement partners team up against a common foe.”

The 20-month probe, led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, has netted $45.2 million in U.S. currency, 27,229 pounds of marijuana, 9,512 pounds of cocaine, 705 pounds of methamphetamine, 227 pounds of pure methamphetamine and 11 pounds of heroin, said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

The investigation also accounted for $6.1 million in property and assets, as well as 100 weapons and 94 vehicles, Mr. Payne said.

Federal or state charges were unsealed against 139 defendants in California, Arizona, Illinois and New York. With the 66 arrests yesterday, the total number of arrests during the course of the investigation rose to 400.

According to court papers, the Cazares-Gastellum organization contracted the transportation of narcotics to the United States by land, air and sea and metric-ton shipments were transported out of Colombia and Venezuela, through Central America to Mexico, by tractor-trailer, noncommercial vehicles and aircraft.

Once in Mexico, the papers said, the narcotics were transported into the United States through various points of entry on the Southwest border and broken down in Los Angeles and San Diego for later shipment across the country.

“The Cazares-Gastellum drug empire that rose to such heights of power in only two years, fell today at the hands of DEA and our partners,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. “This sprawling drug domain, headquartered in Mexico, penetrated deep into all corners of this country.”

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