Alleged drug trafficker Jose Antonio Medina is escorted by police officers… (AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Mexico City — Mexican authorities Thursday announced the arrest of a man dubbed "the king of heroin," who allegedly was one of the biggest smugglers of the drug into the United States.
Jose Antonio Medina was captured by Mexican police a day earlier in the western state of Michoacan, where he allegedly operated a trafficking network that smuggled 440 pounds of heroin a month across the border into Southern California, federal police said.
Medina, 36, was sought on a warrant issued last year for extradition to the U.S. on charges of drug trafficking and sales north of the border. Mexican officials said his smugglers hid small loads of heroin in secret compartments of vehicles that were sent across the border at Tijuana and then to Los Angeles.
Mexican police said that since 2007, the Medina group has sold about $12 million worth of heroin a month.
Medina allegedly bought from poppy growers in the southern state of Guerrero and stockpiled the heroin in Michoacan for shipment north.
Officials said Medina also shared his group's resources and smuggling routes for shipping methamphetamine produced by La Familia, a violent Michoacan-based organization. Medina appeared to operate independently but was "respected" by La Familia, police said.
Most heroin smuggled across the U.S. border is believed to pass through official ports of entry. Seizures of heroin by U.S. authorities along the Southwest border rose last year to about 1,200 pounds, from 926 pounds during 2008.
Medina's arrest is a bit of good news for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose offensive against drug gangs is increasingly criticized as ineffective.
Runaway violence in places such as the border city of Ciudad Juarez crashed into view again this month when gunmen killed three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate there. Two were U.S. citizens.
Calderon has pledged to carry on the army-led campaign against organized crime, which he has called "a ridiculous minority."
"We won't let ourselves be dominated by a bunch of thugs," the president said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, leading a visiting delegation of top-ranking Obama administration officials this week, promised greater help for Calderon's drug war. Some of the American aid will be aimed at helping build stronger Mexican institutions and better living conditions in violence-plagued cities.