PHOENIX - The alleged leader of a drug smuggling organization accused of moving thousands of pounds of marijuana between Maricopa, Ariz., and the Phoenix metropolitan area was arrested Thursday following a major multi-agency enforcement operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office (PCSO).
Jose Sarinana-Placencia, 28, and five members of his organization are facing state and federal drug smuggling and weapons charges. The arrests were made after teams of law enforcement officials executed seven search warrants early Thursday morning at locations in Chandler, Ariz.; Mesa, Ariz.; and Maricopa. In addition to the arrests, officials seized 10 weapons, including a Mac-10 pistol and two ballistic vests.
Sarinana's smuggling organization is suspecting of moving multiple tons of marijuana every month. ICE HSI and PCSO opened an investigation into the organization in February. Before Thursday's operation, the investigation had led to the seizure of approximately 3,000 pounds of marijuana, more than $300,000, nearly three pounds of cocaine and 22 weapons.
"From every indication, this organization has been a major player in moving narcotics smuggled in from Mexico to the Phoenix area," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Phoenix. "By teaming up with PCSO on this complex investigation, we have been able to expose this network and shut it down."
"The drug cartels of Mexico are trying harder and harder everyday to move their illegal drugs throughout the United States," said Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. "This investigation is a prime example of the cooperative efforts needed by federal, state, county, city, and tribal law enforcement agencies to combat their operations. The Pinal County Sheriff's Office will continue to work with our fellow law enforcement partners during this ongoing war."
The investigation was conducted by the Pinal County Drug Task Force, a partnership between HSI and PCSO funded by the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Numerous agencies, including the Chandler Police Department, the El Mirage Police Department, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine, assisted ICE HSI and PCSO with executing the search warrants and arresting suspected smugglers.