(AP) Arizona authorities have disrupted a Mexican drug cartel's distribution network, arresting dozens of smugglers in dismantling a ring responsible for carrying more than $33 million worth of drugs through the state's western desert every month, officials said Monday.
The ring is believed be tied to the Sinaloa cartel — Mexico's most powerful — and responsible for smuggling more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the U.S. through Arizona over the past five years, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Their efforts in that time generated an estimated $2 billion, according to ICE.
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office arrested 22 suspected smugglers tied to the ring on Thursday, the latest of three busts they say have brought it down following a 17-month investigation dubbed "Operation Pipeline Express."
In the three busts combined, the agencies have arrested 76 suspected smugglers and seized more than 61,000 pounds of pot, about 160 pounds of heroin, about 210 pounds of cocaine, nearly $760,000 in cash, and 108 weapons, including assault rifles and shotguns. The other busts came in mid-September and mid-October.