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Hundreds arrested in cartel probe

Thu., Feb. 26, 2009

Mexican drug league infiltrating U.S.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced Wednesday that authorities have arrested more than 730 people across the country in a 21-month investigation targeting Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel and its infiltration into U.S. cities.

The arrests, including 50 on Wednesday in California, Minnesota, Maryland and the nation’s capital, come amid growing concern in Washington that Mexican crime organizations are out of control and threaten the stability of parts of Mexico and the safety of U.S. citizens.

The Homeland Security Department has developed a plan to send more agents and other resources, and possibly military support, to the U.S. side of the border if the drug violence continues to spill over and overwhelm the agents stationed there, a department official confirmed.

The Pentagon is looking into a larger role in bolstering counter-narcotics efforts. Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, told Congress Wednesday that the corruptive influence and increasing violence of the cartels have undermined the Mexican government’s ability to govern parts of its country.

A recent State Department travel advisory warned U.S. citizens about the perils of travel in Mexico, likening the shootouts between authorities and the cartels to “small-unit combat.” The U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center believes that Mexican cartels maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in as many as 195 U.S. cities.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in his first news conference since taking over as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, offered this as proof of the creeping spread of the Sinaloa cartel in the United States: the seizure of more than $59 million in illegal drug proceeds and large amounts of narcotics, including more than 24,000 pounds of cocaine, 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine and 1.3 million ecstasy pills.

Authorities also seized more than $6.5 million in other assets, 149 vehicles, three aircraft, three maritime vessels and 169 weapons.

“The dimensions of what we are breaking up today had nationwide implications here” in the United States, Holder said.

Special Agent Michele Leonhart, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the crackdown has denied at least $1 billion in drug revenue for the Sinaloa cartel, one of several syndicates fighting the Mexican government in a war that claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people in Mexico last year.

About 20 suspects have been arrested in Mexico as part of the crackdown, which has been coordinated by the DEA’s Special Operations Division in close cooperation with Mexico and dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States.

Holder and top DEA officials said most, if not all, of the senior members of the cartel remained at large.

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