Officials bust drug trafficking ring linked to cartel

Capping a three-year investigation, authorities in Los Angeles County arrested 20 people Wednesday indicted for allegedly smuggling large amounts of drugs into the United States from Mexico on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Those arrested Wednesday morning by members of the Los Angeles Strike Force were among 57 defendants named in three indictments that were unsealed this morning, said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

"This morning, some 250 agents, officers and deputies from multiple law enforcement agencies executed 30 arrest warrants and five search warrants across Los Angeles County,'' Delacourt said.

"This effort was the culmination of a three-year investigation targeting multiple drug trafficking organizations involved in the transportation of bulk quantities of drugs from Mexico to the Los Angeles area and other cities throughout the United States,'' Delacourt said.

Two of the defendants were already in state custody and are being turned over today to federal authorities. The remaining 35 defendants are fugitives, with most of those believed to be in Mexico, Delacourt said.

The investigation, dubbed Operation Narconetas, targeted three drug trafficking organizations that transported bulk quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin from Mexico to the Los Angeles metropolitan area and other locations across the United States, authorities said.

The investigation revealed that Sinaloa Cartel operatives moved drugs to the northern reaches of Mexico, and the defendants charged in the indictments are accused of transporting the drugs into the United States, often using vehicles with hidden compartments.

One of the indictments alleges that money generated from illegal drug sales in the United States was transported in bulk quantities from the United States into Mexico.

As a result of Operation Narconetas, authorities seized about 850 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly one ton of cocaine, 93 pounds of heroin, nearly 50 pounds of marijuana and $1.42 million in United States currency.

The Los Angeles Strike Force investigation was led by the FBI, in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Participating agencies included the Los Angeles Police Department, IRS Criminal Investigation unit, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, United States Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, California Highway Patrol, and the Torrance, Glendale, Pomona, Fullerton and Azusa police departments.

The strike force members uncovered several sophisticated international drug trafficking organizations that regularly transported drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border and at times stored drugs in ``stash houses'' in cities across the Southland, authorities said. The drugs then were distributed throughout the United States.

The Los Angeles Strike Force was formed in 2014 to target Mexican drug cartels that utilize the Los Angeles metropolitan region as a primary hub for the distribution of narcotics across the United States.