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DEA agents bust Mexican drug ring in Salt Lake County


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SALT LAKE COUNTY — The Drug Enforcement Administration scored a big victory in Salt Lake County Tuesday.

Agents were able to finish a long-term investigation into a Mexican drug ring working within the Salt Lake Valley and took down the people they were looking for.

During the 1 1/2-year-long investigation, agents seized more than $500,000 worth of drugs. But more importantly, they say they've knocked down a cell of drug cartel operating in California, Nevada and in Utah.

"We brought the case down by arresting the main target," explained Sue Thomas, supervisory special agent for the DEA.

Agents issued multiple search warrants across the Salt Lake area, one of which was at the Mi Ranchito restaurant in South Salt Lake. Thomas said they seized a significant amount of drugs from these combined seizures.

During their investigation into the Sinaloa cartel, DEA agents have seized over 30 pounds of methamphetamine, a pound of heroin and a kilo of cocaine.
During their investigation into the Sinaloa cartel, DEA agents have seized over 30 pounds of methamphetamine, a pound of heroin and a kilo of cocaine.

"[We seized] roughly over 30 pounds of methamphetamine, a pound of heroin and a kilo of cocaine," she said.

The drugs, along with $322,000 cash, are now in the custody of the federal government.

DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Frank Smith says during the 18-month investigation his agents arrested more than 30 people — including 7 Tuesday at various places across the valley.

One of the most public arrest happened at the Mi Ranchito restaurant at 3600 S. State Street in South Salt Lake. Investigators say one of the restaurant owners was in a command role in the cartel cell.

"Sometimes individuals are not what they appear, and we had some what people thought were legit business people that ran what seemed to be legitimate businesses here and we affected a couple of arrests at businesses across town," Smith said.

Agents say they knocked down a cell of the Sinaloa cartel by arresting people in key roles. They describe the highest ranking ones as multi-pound traffickers.

"When you can arrest command and control structure of any cartel, that's hard to replace," Smith said.

Combined with busts of massive marijuana growing operations in the southern part of the state, officials say they're taking stand against the cartel working their way into Utah.

"We think if we have staunch enforcement and we draw the line in the sand, we'll be able to prevent it," Smith said.

The names of those arrested are not being released yet, and agents expect more arrests — including some in Mexico.

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Written with contributions from Paul Nelson and Sarah Dallof.

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