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More than 200 arrested as Mexican heroin ring is busted, U.S. officials say

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June 15, 2000
Web posted at: 7:16 p.m. EDT (2316 GMT)


In this story:

Customer base grew quickly, DEA says

No known ties to Colombian cartels

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "Operation Tar Pit" put more than 200 members of a heroin-trafficking network under arrest as a result of law enforcement raids against a major drug ring responsible for the distribution of Mexican black tar heroin to dozens of U.S. cities, federal officials said Thursday.

"This morning we successfully wiped out this entire national heroin-trafficking organization," said Drug Enforcement Administration administrator Donnie Marshall.

"We dismantled them from top to bottom, from their smuggling operation, to their wholesale distribution sales and all the way down to their street level dealers in many American neighborhoods," he said.

Officials say the highly potent heroin, known as black tar, was smuggled from Mexico across the California and Arizona borders to Los Angeles, where an ever-expanding distribution center shipped millions of dollars worth of the drug throughout the West, and more recently into several cities in the Midwest and East.

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VideoDEA administrator Donnie Marshall comments on the highly successful drug bust.
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Cities in the distribution network, officials said, included:

  •  Pittsburgh
  •  Atlanta
  •  Denver
  •  Anchorage, Alaska
  •  Honolulu
  • Salt Lake City
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Chicago
  • Detroit
  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada
  • Yuma and Phoenix in Arizona
  • San Diego and Bakersfield in California
  • Cleveland, Columbus and Steubenville in Ohio
  • Portland, Oregon.

Areas in Minnesota, Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia, and New Jersey also received shipments of the black tar heroin, officials say.

Customer base grew quickly, DEA says

The heroin was usually smuggled across the U.S. border in the dashboards or gas tanks of vehicles. Once in Los Angeles, it was then transported across the country by couriers who the ringleaders believed would not raise suspicions -- often female juveniles or males in their 60s.

The narcotic, often strapped to the bodies of the couriers, was handed off to members of the organization upon arrival at the various cities.

The traffickers also sent the black tar heroin through overnight delivery services or the U.S. mail, often hidden in lamps and other small appliances.

The DEA expressed alarm at the speed with which the customer base for the black tar heroin was growing. Officials attributed that in part to traffickers successfully targeting of methadone clinics where heroin addicts undergo treatment.

The DEA also expressed concern that the high purity levels -- ranging from 60 percent to as much as 84 percent -- were a serious danger to users.

Results of the 9-month long investigation dubbed "Operation Tar Pit" were announced by Marshall, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Assistant Director Ruben Garcia.

Officials said the Nayarit heroin ring was named after the state in Mexico where the opium was cultivated and processed in labs into heroin for shipment to the U.S. market.

No known ties to Colombian cartels

The ringleaders were described as "independent" with no known ties to Colombian drug rings or the major Mexican cocaine trafficking cartels.

At least one arrest was made in Mexico, and DEA officials said they had provided intelligence to that country's anti-drug officials to pursue their own investigation.

On Thursday alone, 165 suspects had been arrested in raids that began before dawn. Seventy people were already in custody Wednesday night.

Twenty pounds of heroin was seized Thursday, in addition to 40 pounds previously seized in the investigation. The DEA said the wholesale price of the drug ranged from $1,200 to $1,500 dollars per ounce.

Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Middle-class, teen-age heroin addicts testify before Senate
May 9, 2000
Narcotics seized, arrests made in 'large scale drug bust' in Hawaii
May 5, 2000
Mexico, Colombia meet U.S. anti-drug standards
March 1, 2000
Mexico beefs up fight against drugs
January 27, 2000
America's 'War on Drugs' reduces users, but supply keeps coming
September 9, 1999
93 arrested in sting on Mexican drug cartel
September 22, 1999
Feds bust international drug trafficking ring
August 17, 1999
DEA chief: Mexican corruption undermines drug war
February 25, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Drug Enforcement Agency
Office of the Attorney General
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)

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