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Tohono O'odham Reservation Part of Smuggling Route in Drug Raid

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For the Pinal County Sheriff’s office in Arizona a routine traffic stop in June 2010, has landed them one of the largest drug-smuggling busts in Arizona to date. The traffic stop, which began Operation Pipeline Express, saw the third phase of the operation carried out on October 30, with 22 arrests.

At a news conference on October 31, investigators announced the three phases led to the seizure of more than 30 tons of marijuana and 76 arrests of people suspected of working for Mexico’s notorious Sinaloan Cartel.

The cartel, headquartered in the northwestern state of Sinaloa on Mexico’s Pacific coast—considered the cradle of Mexican narcotics trafficking since the 1960s, generated proceeds estimated close to $2 billion through the smuggling of 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin in its five year existence according to an MSNBC report.

The ring, under a massive criminal investigation involving more than two-dozen law-enforcement agencies, used a notorious smuggling route through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. Authorities said cells based in Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa, used backpackers and vehicles to run narcotics across the border according to an article by The Arizona Republic.

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Matt Allen, special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona said the ring was estimated moving $33 million in marijuana, cocaine and heroin into the United States a month. The arrests hit the organization at all levels, from “mules” to border scouts, and bosses in Phoenix.

"[October 31] we have dealt a significant blow to a Mexican criminal enterprise that has been responsible for poisoning our communities," said Tom Horne, Attorney General. "These drugs not only destroy lives, they create an environment of violent criminality that ensnares innocent victims. . . . I find it completely unacceptable that Arizona neighborhoods are treated as a trading floor for narcotics."

According to a CBS news report, the operation consisted of three raids that spanned 17 months against the cartel that handles up to 65 percent of all drugs illegally transported to the United States experts say.

“I expect there will be a shift,” Allen said, cautious of declaring this a victory in the war on drugs in a New York Timesarticle. “One investigation is not going to put them out of business. We have to continually adapt.”