Twenty-seven people arrested in Minnesota during a major drug crackdown will have their initial court appearances Thursday. U.S. authorities announced the arrests as part of a nationwide operation to combat one of Mexico's biggest and most violent drug cartels.
The 27 arrested in the Twin Cities are suspected of transporting and distributing large amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine. Another 25 people were arrested in California and Maryland.
In connection with the crackdown, three-dozen people have been indicted in Minnesota. Nationwide, the investigation into Mexican drug cartels working in the United States has so far netted more than 750 arrests.
The nearly two-year-old campaign is dubbed Operation Xcellerator. DEA spokesman Michael Sanders said police have seized about $60 million in cash and 23 tons of narcotics.
"And that is a big hit," Sanders said. "That takes them off the street and a lot of money is taken out of their pockets, too. That causes them to basically disrupt their organization."
The focus of the crackdown, the Sinaloa Cartel, is one of Mexico's most notorious drug organizations. The group is blamed for rising cross border drug violence, and the deaths of more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year.
Sanders said the cartel used a handful of states, including Minnesota, as a hub to transport cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico and Canada. He said the arrests are a major victory in the fight against gang violence.
"You know they are looking at possibly, depending on whether they've been arrested before, if they are two and three-times losers, we are talking thirty years in jail for some of these people, these gang members," he said.
Attempts to contact individuals named by authorities were unsuccessful.
The smugglers allegedly used private cars and commercial trucks, airplanes and bus lines to move drugs across the Mexican and Canadian borders. The suspects are also accused of laundering millions of dollars in drug profits.
Officials said the Minnesota "distribution cells" are estimated to have made about $3.5 million a month from trafficking cocaine and meth.
St. Paul police spokesman Peter Panos said the city's drug task force has been working closely with federal officials. He says Operation Xcellerator gives a big boost to the St. Paul police department's ongoing effort to combat drug-related crime.
"Hopefully, when you start taking down major suppliers, you slow the flow of drugs around the state and hopefully people that are looking to buy drugs will leave and go somewhere else or if they want help to get off those kinds of drugs we will get them into some kind of help program," Panos said.
Panos said the Sinaloa Cartel was known as one of the major suppliers of drugs in Minnesota.
More details on the operation are expected to be released this week.