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4 Drug Cartel Cells Crushed; 41 Arrested

June 14, 2002|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four Los Angeles cells of the feared Arellano Felix drug cartel have been dismantled with the arrests of 41 suspects on trafficking charges in California and elsewhere in the country, authorities announced Thursday.

The sweep concluded an intensive two-year investigation and was part of a nationwide crackdown on the powerful Mexico-based cartel, which imports millions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States every year.

"We have seriously damaged a large, sophisticated and--I can assure you--a very violent drug traffic organization," Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said at a joint news conference with officials from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

More than 400 officers raided 31 sites in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties early Thursday. They seized $360,000 worth of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, nine handguns and eight assault rifles.

Search and arrest warrants also were executed Thursday in Minnesota, Connecticut, Arizona, New York and Mexico, officials said. Authorities were still looking for 36 more suspects.

The arrests in what authorities term Operation Vise Grip are the latest setback for the Arellano Felix organization, the powerful drug gang that has used violence and bribery to control drug trafficking along the Tijuana-San Diego corridor for more than a decade.

Cartel enforcer Ramon Arellano Felix was killed in a police shootout in Mazatlan in February. His brother, Benjamin, was seized by Mexican army soldiers weeks later.

The four dismantled Los Angeles cells all run independently, authorities said. Among those arrested Thursday were Rosario Uriarte and Juan Ramon Camacho, who authorities said are two of the city's top drug traffickers.

"We targeted from the highest levels of the organization down to the street level," said interim Los Angeles Police Chief Martin Pomeroy.

Authorities called the Los Angeles-based probe the largest domestic attack yet against the Arellano Felix cartel. Beginning in January 2000, investigators from 18 states aimed at its local operations.

Los Angeles cells are responsible for smuggling, transporting and distributing drugs to cities as far away as Boston, New York and Minneapolis, authorities said.

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