Tags: arizona | drug | runners

Arizona Authorities Bust Huge Drug Smuggling Gang

Wednesday, 24 Dec 2008 07:36 AM

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LOS ANGELES – Authorities in Arizona declared victory on Tuesday against a sophisticated US-Mexican smuggling ring believed to have smuggled more than 900 tonnes of marijuana into the United States.

Thirty-nine people were arrested on felony charges and nearly 60 indicted as part of a year-long investigation into the activities of the Garibaldi-Lopez syndicate known as "Operation Tumbleweed."

The operation, conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies, led to the seizure of 25,600 pounds of marijuana, one kilogram of cocaine, 769,000 dollars cash, and dozens of vehicles and firearms.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said in a statement the gang was believed to have smuggled up to 400,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico annually since 2003, a total haul worth one billion dollars.

"Operation Tumbleweed is an historic achievement in the fight against violent border smuggling syndicates," Goddard said. "Trafficking across our southern border is the organized crime threat of the 21st century."

Authorities described the smuggling ring's operations as highly methodical. Drivers of trucks carrying drugs were fitted with night vision goggles to allow them to travel in the dark through remote desert regions of the border while load vehicles also carried tarpaulins able to camouflage the vehicles from aerial border patrols.

The organization also used teams of spotters deployed in high terrain near drug routes able to scan for law enforcement and advise drug loads when it was safe to move, the statement said.

© 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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