CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — A major multi-agency law enforcement operation headed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) resulted in the execution of 12 search warrants and the arrest of 17 suspected smugglers in central and southern Arizona Thursday.
In addition to the arrests, agents and officers representing more than a dozen different law enforcement agencies seized more than 935 pounds of marijuana, 12 weapons, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and $35,000.
Thursday's enforcement operation was focused on dismantling a drug smuggling organization centered in Casa Grande that specialized in moving narcotics from the Mexican border through the West Desert region of Arizona and into Phoenix. Six search warrants were served in Casa Grande; two in Stanfield, Ariz.; and one each in Phoenix; Tucson; Marana, Ariz.; and on the Gila River Nation.
ICE HSI and the PCSO have been investigating the Casa Grande drug smuggling organization for more than a year and suspected its members have been responsible for smuggling up to 50,000 pounds of marijuana a month through Arizona.
"With this operation, we've dealt a significant blow to the ability of drug smuggling organizations to move their narcotics through the West Desert into Phoenix," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Phoenix. "Our investigative partnership with PCSO is bearing fruit, bringing heightened enforcement pressure on organized criminal activity in Pinal County."
Sheriff Paul Babeu stated, "We appreciate the assistance of our federal law enforcement partners with this large scale investigation. Together we were able to disrupt a major drug smuggling operation which in turn has had a significant effect on the Mexican drug cartel behind it. We will continue to bring the heavy hand of enforcement to those who think they can smuggle drugs or humans through Pinal County."
The investigation was conducted by the Pinal County Drug Task Force, a partnership between ICE HSI and the PCSO funded by the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Numerous agencies, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety; the U.S. Border Patrol; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Air and Marine; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Arizona Attorney General's Office; the U.S. Attorney's Office; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Pima County Sheriff's Office; and the police departments from Marana, Florence, Coolidge, Casa Grande, Maricopa, Gila River, Phoenix and Eloy assisted ICE HSI and PCSO with executing the search warrants and arresting suspected smugglers.