Ventura County authorities are requesting extradition of Jose Antonio… (Mario Guzman / EPA )
Authorities in Ventura County on Monday said the arrest of an alleged heroin kingpin in Mexico was triggered by a local investigation that has made a significant dent in the area drug market.
Described by Mexican officials as "the king of heroin," Jose Antonio Medina Arreguin, 36, was apprehended last week. He is said to have smuggled 440 pounds of heroin monthly into California for at least three years, stashing most of it in secret compartments built into automobiles. Mexican narcotics officials said his operation brought in about $12 million a month.
At a news conference, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said the arrest by Mexican authorities "dramatically weakened perhaps the largest drug operation" in the county's history. Although much of the investigation focused on drug sales in Oxnard, Arreguin's alleged network of distributors sold black tar heroin and methamphetamines from San Diego to San Jose, officials said.
Totten said Arreguin -- also known as "Don Pepe" -- was not known to be a member of any larger drug syndicate. However, he apparently operated with the blessings of La Familia, a cartel that controls the western state of Michoacan. Officials said they had no evidence of any role played by Arreguin in the wave of bloody drug violence that has swept the nation.
A portly man in a striped polo shirt, Arreguin was paraded before reporters in Mexico after his arrest, flanked by heavily armed officers wearing face masks. Disclosure of his apprehension came the same week that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised aid for Mexico's internal war against its powerful drug lords.
The two-year investigation that culminated in Arreguin's capture started with the drug bust of two lower-ranking associates. Making extensive use of wiretaps, a team made up of Ventura County sheriff's deputies, DEA agents, and officers from Oxnard and Downey traced the heroin in that bust to a man in Michoacan they knew only as Don Pepe. At the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, Mexican officials identified him, found him and arrested him.
Arreguin allegedly smuggled heroin made from poppies grown in the southern state of Guerrero. Authorities said most of it was surreptitiously driven across the border at Tijuana.
Ventura County is in the process of requesting extradition for Arreguin, who faces a U.S. prison term of 29 years. How long the process will take is unclear, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Wright, who has been his office's point man on the case.
Keeping an alleged major Mexican drug figure in a local jail and trying him in local courts will not pose an insurmountable security problem, Sheriff Bob Brooks said.
"We're more than comfortable we can handle this," he said.