07/11/12 – A joint operation between the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Tempe Police Department, called “Operation Nayarit Stampede,” ended last week with a massive drug seizure across three Arizona cities–Phoenix, Tempe, and Tucson. Operation Nayarit Stampede dismantled a cross-border cell of the Sinaloa Cartel, a cell that was believed to be a main trafficker of narcotics across the Arizona corridor. The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the most powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, and is believed to be headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Mexico’s most wanted criminal who ranks as number 41 on Forbes’ “World’s Most Powerful People” list.
The DEA began investigations six months ago when information was received regarding the possible location of “drop houses” used to store trafficked goods when in transit from Mexico to their distribution states, including New York, Alabama, California, and the Carolinas. The organization also received shipments directly from South and Central American suppliers. 15 search warrants were produced following the joint investigations, leading to over 20 arrests and the seizure of 14 firearms, $2.4 million in cash, three tons of marijuana, 30 pounds of methamphetamine, ten vehicles, and a Cessna 421 airplane (pictured above) used for cross-border smuggling. Among those arrested last week were Norberto Meza Montoya, Leonel Gálvez Leon, and José Alonso Rodríguez, the cell’s ringleaders.
Sinaloa is structured as a cell network in order to keep arrests such as these from creating a domino effect within the organization, which also makes tracing the drugs back to suppliers on the Mexican side of the border highly unlikely. According to Ramona Sanchez, a DEA spokesperson, “There is no communication between the drug runners in Mexico and the domestic ones here. It makes it extremely difficult for authorities to connect the drug activity here to Mexico and South America.” The cell structure functions not only as a hedge against extra-organizational threats presented by the DEA or Mexico’s federal police and military, but also imbibes the cartel with a resistance to inter-organizational power struggles. Sinaloa rests strongly under the control of its leadership because it is more difficult for power-hungry cartel members to garner support throughout the different cells in order to splinter from the Sinaloa cartel at large.
Though the likelihood of continuing the trail of arrests into Sinaloa territory is slim for this reason, the DEA expects the investigation to continue domestically in the United States. As Ahwatukee Foothills News of Arizona reports, “the specific number of homes where the drugs were being stored was not available as the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are expected.”