Thursday, October 22, 2009

U.S. Arrests Hundreds in Raids on Drug Cartel

By LIZ ROBBINS and JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Published: October 22, 2009

Calling it a “significant blow” to the operations of a major Mexican drug cartel, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday the arrests of 303 people and the seizure of illegal drugs, weapons and millions of dollars over the past two days in a series of coordinated raids in 19 states.

At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Holder said the raids were aimed at the United States operations of the La Familia Michoacán drug cartel, which he described as the newest and most violent of Mexico’s five drug cartels.

“While this cartel may operate from Mexico, the toxic reach of its operations extends to nearly every state within our own country,” he said.

In Dallas alone on Wednesday, he said, 77 people were arrested.

Beyond the arrests, Mr. Holder said, the authorities seized more than $32 million in United States currency, more than 2,700 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly 2,000 kilograms of cocaine, about 16,000 pounds of marijuana and 29 pounds of heroin during the 44-month effort. More arrests are expected.

“These are drugs that were headed for our streets and weapons that often were headed for the streets of Mexico,” he said. “That’s why we are hitting them where it hurts the most — their revenue stream. By seizing their drugs and upending their supply chains, we have disrupted their ‘business-as-usual’ state of operations.”

The arrests were part of “Project Coronado,” focusing on La Familia, which controls drug manufacturing and distribution, mostly of methamphetamine and cocaine. The group began several years ago as a vigilante organization aimed at removing the influence of drug dealers in the state of Michoacán, but it has evolved into a ruthless cartel itself.

It now competes with the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels, but La Familia is unusual in that its leaders espouse a religious philosophy and ask the core members of the organization to carry bibles and attend church. It recruits heavily from drug rehabilitation centers in Michoacán.

Mr. Holder said that Project Coronado has led to the arrests of 1,186 people over 44 months, although it remains unclear how many are members of the cartel’s upper leadership or simply work for the cartel in various capacities.

Liz Robbins reported from New York and James C. McKinley Jr. from Houston.

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