Law enforcement officials on Monday announced the breakup of a massive drug-smuggling ring that used lookouts on hilltops in southern Arizona to move huge quantities of marijuana and other drugs across the Mexican border to users throughout the United States.
Over the last month and a half, federal, state and local officials have arrested 76 people, from organizational bosses to stash-house guards to those who transported the drugs in backpacks and in vehicles, the authorities said. All were linked to the Sinaloa cartel run by Joaquin Guzman, Mexico's richest and most wanted outlaw, who goes by the nickname El Chapo, officials said.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Arizona officials estimated that the ring had been in operation for at least five years and had generated more than $2 billion in profits by smuggling more than 3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the United States. Such large smuggling rings usually use tractor-trailers to get their contraband across, the authorities said, but this operation relied mostly on migrants on foot.
The authorities acknowledged that the smuggling ring operated under their noses, albeit in rugged terrain that is difficult to patrol. Spotters with radios or cell phones were used to point out the presence of law enforcement and divert loads. The drugs would be carried in relatively small quantities and then transported north to a network of stash houses in the Phoenix area. From there, the contraband would be sold to distributors nationwide.
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