By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; A10
Federal authorities on Thursday announced the arrests of more than 2,200 people in 19 states on narcotics-related charges in the largest in a series of operations targeting violent Mexican drug cartels.
The 2,266 arrests over the past 22 months were part of Project Deliverance, a joint effort with Mexican authorities that the Justice Department did not disclose until Thursday. Investigators from more than 300 federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies seized 74 tons of drugs, 501 weapons and $154 million in cash, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced.
The crackdown, which included more than 400 arrests on Wednesday, targeted the transportation networks of Mexican drug organizations in the United States, especially along the drug-ravaged southwest border. Among those arrested was Carlos Ramon Castro-Rocha, described as a major heroin trafficker, who was detained by Mexican authorities May 30 and has been charged in federal courts in Arizona and North Carolina.
The arrests extended to the Washington area, where 15 people were indicted in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on charges of running a cocaine trafficking network that funneled drugs from Mexico to Virginia and three other states, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride said Thursday.
"We will not rest until we have defeated" the cartels, Holder said at a news conference as officials from Justice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the arrests.
The law enforcement sweep came amid rising drug-related violence along the border with Mexico, where more than 22,000 people have died since the Mexican government declared war on cartels in 2006. Although U.S. officials say there has been little spillover violence, Arizona has seen a rise in extortion-related kidnappings, and curbing the flow of illegal drugs to U.S. cities is a growing Justice Department priority.
"Drug trafficking across the U.S. southwest border . . . has led to a surge of drugs in our neighborhoods across the country, increased border violence, kidnapping, extortion and human smuggling,'' said Kevin L. Perkins, assistant director for the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division.
Officials said the operation grew out of earlier large-scale crackdowns on Mexican cartels, including Project Coronado, which last year targeted a specific drug organization, La Familia. The operation announced Thursday was broader and much larger.
Officials said they had significantly hampered the operations of a number of cartels, but they acknowledged that with the demand for narcotics in the United States, drug traffickers will continue to find markets.
"Has drug trafficking come to an end? Of course not,'' said John Morton, assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "But it just got harder, and there are a lot of people this morning who wish they had made a better career choice.''
The announcement also came amid tensions with Mexico over Monday's fatal shooting of a Mexican teenager by the U.S. Border Patrol at the border in El Paso, the second killing of a Mexican by a U.S. agent in two weeks.
But Mexican law enforcement officials praised the joint operation and said intelligence-sharing led to the drug arrests. They pointed to Castro-Rocha's capture as especially significant and said Mexico would move to extradite him to the United States to stand trial. "He is one of the largest distributors of heroin in the United States," said Marisela Morales, an organized crime investigator.
Morales said intelligence indicates that Castro-Rocha, alias "The Twin," has been a major producer and exporter of heroin from the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa since at least 2002 and that he led a network that sold heroin in at least 10 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego.
Correspondent William Booth in Mexico City contributed to this report.