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Inland Empire Mexican drug gang targeted

October 22, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Federal prosecutors say they've put a big dent in a major Mexican drug cartel. It's known as La Familia, and it's been called the most brutal of Mexico's five big drug gangs. Many arrests were made Thursday in San Bernardino.The Drug Enforcement Agency calls the Inland Empire a flashpoint for drug cartel activity, probably due to a combination of proximity to the Mexican border and the many highways running through the area. Early Wednesday morning the La Familia drug cartel was hit hard all across the nation, especially so right in the Inland Empire.

In San Bernardino County, 22 high powered weapons and 156 pounds of methamphetamine were seized, and 25 suspected drug cartel members were arrested Wednesday.

Authorities call it Project Coronado. They say nationwide it's the biggest narcotics takedown in history.

"I mean, quite honestly what took place yesterday was a good swift kick in the butt to La Familia," said DEA Special Agent Stephen Azzam.

La Familia is the newest and most violent of the five Mexican drug cartels -- now less violent, authorities say, because of Project Coronado.

"This operation has dealt a significant blow to La Familia's supply chain of illegal drugs, weapons and cash flowing between Mexico and the United States," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Authorities hit homes all across the nation Wednesday. A number of busts were made locally. Key information for Project Coronado was reportedly gathered in the Inland Empire over the past year and a half.

"They do have a somewhat of a 'Robin Hood' type mentality, where they feel that they're doing good for the common citizen down in Mexico," said Azzam. "I mean, the reality of it is when you look at, you know, 156 pounds of methamphetamine, that's 275,000 dosage units they added to the street today, so I don't know how you can equate that to them being a Robin Hood-type mentality."

"This type of activity is not going to be tolerated within San Bernardino County and we're going to continue to do everything we can to keep this drug cartel from ruining the citizens here in the United States," said San Bernardino Sheriff Rod Hoops.

Hoops said they could not have done this without help from all levels, including federal, state, county and city law enforcement. The operation isn't over -- more arrests are expected.


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