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27 charged in California-Mexico methamphetamine ring

August 23, 2012 |  2:59 pm

Local and federal authorities moved Thursday to break up an alleged drug trafficking ring connecting a major Mexican cartel and San Gabriel Valley street gangs, arresting 17 people in a pre-dawn sweep.

A federal indictment unsealed Thursday charges 27 defendants with making, possessing and dealing methamphetamine imported by La Familia Michoacana, one of Mexico’s most violent cartels, to two Pomona gangs: Los Amables and Westside Pomona Malditos.

Seven law enforcement agencies, including the Pasadena and Pomona police, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, were involved in the sweep.

Thursday’s crackdown is the culmination of a probe called Operation Crystal Light, a 16-month investigation by the San Gabriel Valley Safe Streets Gang Task Force. The investigation was launched after a 2011 kidnapping among suspected gang members in Southern California.

Officers said they seized nine weapons, an undisclosed amount of methamphetamine, other drugs, and paraphernalia in Thursday morning raids in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The probe involved about 200 law enforcement officers and several undercover purchases.

“The goal of the federal task force is to disrupt the network so it’s disrupted permanently,” Timothy Delaney, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Criminal Division in Los Angeles, said. “Today’s arrests took some very serious players in the methamphetamine world off the streets.”

The methamphetamine came into the country in liquid form via airplane, boats and cars, officials said. The drug was recrystallized at an Ontario home before local gangs would sell it and funnel money to the Mexican cartel.

Most of the drugs were being sold in Pomona and Ontario, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Shawn Nelson. Dealers were selling multiple pounds a day and making up to $9,000 per pound, Nelson said.

He described the arrests as “a good dent” in the Mexican cartel’s local drug network. Three suspects were in custody before the raid and seven remain at large, federal authorities said.

The indictment alleges that a La Familia Michoacana associate named Jose Juan Garcia Barron oversaw the transport of the meth between Mexico and Los Angeles County. Delaney said Garcia Barron is among the suspects who have not been apprehended.

The 17 arrested Thursday were expected to make their first court appearance Thursday afternoon at U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.

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-- Adolfo Flores

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