Pubdate: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2006 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Author: Jay Root, Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


LAREDO -- Seizing property, luxury cars and jewelry and arresting at
least seven people, federal authorities have disrupted a cocaine
distribution cell controlled by suspected Mexican drug trafficker
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, officials said Saturday.

The raids began Thursday in Laredo, a key transit point for U.S.-bound
cocaine, in a continuing investigation that began months ago and
stretches across the nation.

"It represents the disruption of a domestic cell of the Sinaloa
Cartel. ... We feel that it is a very significant case, a very
significant cell of that organization," said Joe Arabit, assistant
special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's San
Antonio office.

"They were smuggling cocaine across the border and in many instances
storing it in San Antonio and sending it out to various parts of the

Five Mexican nationals and two U.S. citizens were arrested and accused
of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. Seven more fugitives
are still at large, officials said.

A major break in the case came last summer in San Antonio when
authorities confiscated 1,000 pounds of cocaine and arrested four
people. An additional 40 pounds of cocaine -- found stuffed in five
religious statues in Brooklyn, N.Y., in November -- was also connected
to the Sinaloa Cartel's Laredo distribution network, officials said.

The latest phase of the federal investigation also led to the seizure
of 14 vehicles, including a restored 1967 Ford Shelby GT500E "Eleanor"
Mustang valued at $173,500 and an armored 2004 Jeep Cherokee.

Federal authorities also confiscated three tractor-trailers used to
haul drugs and their proceeds, a $330,000 house in Laredo's Plantation
subdivision, weapons, cash, $60,000 in jewelry and Magic Car Wash,
valued at $1.5 million.

Laredo and its sister city in Mexico, Nuevo Laredo, are at the center
of a brutal war between the Sinaloa Cartel, based in Sinaloa state on
the Pacific Coast, and the Gulf Cartel, centered in northern
Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas along the Gulf Coast.

The same geographic and commercial advantages that make Laredo a major
gateway for U.S. trade have turned it into a hotly contested transit
point for drugs. It lies at the end of Interstate 35, just 2 
1/2 hours south of San Antonio.

Laredo, the largest land-based port in the country, is a "favorite
attraction" for drug traffickers, said Thomas Hinojosa of the DEA's
Laredo office.

"You've got people who are able to facilitate their business by
connections on both sides of the border," Hinojosa said.
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