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Huge Mexican heroin ring raided

March 24, 2009 | 11:48 am

Federal and local law enforcement officers raided 38 locations across Southern California today as part of a crackdown on a huge drug ring allegedly run by a family based in Mexico and East Los Angeles that distributed heroin to street gangs across the region.

Authorities arrested 48 members of the so-called Mendoza family, seized 20 kilos of heroin and $100,000 in cash during the early morning raids, officials said. In addition, 14 children were taken into protective custody.

The raids capped a seven-month investigation by immigration officials, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department into a ring that allegedly made $2 million a month selling heroin in suburban L.A. County as well as Ventura and San Diego counties.

“It makes the connection between the street-level users in L.A. and the cartels in Mexico,” U.S. Atty. Thomas O’Brien said of the drug operation at an afternoon news conference. “The money, both small and large amounts, makes its way to the cartels.”

Authorities said the ring sold 15 to 20 kilos a week and involved numerous gang members in East L.A. and parts of the San Gabriel Valley.

On March 12, a federal grand jury indicted the 48 members of the Mendoza family, who authorities said had arranged to smuggle large amounts of black tar heroin into the Los Angeles area from Mexico for the last 15 to 20 years.

The family hails from Oaxaca, Mexico, and most of those involved in the drug ring are related by blood or are part of the extended family, police said.

The Mendoza family supplied heroin to 11 Southern California street gangs, who in turn resold the drugs for a profit, according to the indictment. Among the gangs that were supplied with drugs were the Brown Brotherhood, White Fence, City Terrace, Mariana Maravilla, Gerahty, East La Rife, Vario Locos, Vario Nueva Estrada, Bandini Maravilla, Hick Boys and Southside Montebello, according to court documents.

The resellers were given Christmas bonuses for selling heroin on behalf of the Mendoza family, according to the indictment.

-- Richard Winton and Sam Quinones

Complete series: Mexico's drug war