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Operation Los Tusa dismantles marijuana syndicate

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office announced Oct. 26 that it has indicted 21 people in connection with a marijuana-smuggling operation based in Pinal County.

Attorney General Terry Goddard, along with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, sent out a media release noting that Operation Los Tusa has dismantled a syndicate responsible for smuggling thousands of pounds of marijuana into Arizona during the past three years.

The organization is believed to have been led by Arizona City resident Robert Hernandez. Hernandez and 20 other suspects are facing charges including possession and transportation of marijuana for sale, money laundering, conspiracy and illegally conducting an enterprise, according to Goddard’s office.

Authorities claim that the organization smuggled marijuana from Mexico by using individual hikers carrying packs stuffed with as much as 100 pounds of the drug. The suspects also have been accused of maintaining stash houses across the county. The group also allegedly schemed to rob rival smugglers while dressed as law enforcement authorities.

Several suspects also face charges of hiring minors to drive into the desert to meet smugglers and receive shipments of marijuana.

Goddard noted in the media release that the indictments were a testament to the value of interagency cooperation needed to combat drug cartels.

“Coordinated law enforcement that attacks organized crime from the top down is the key to securing our border and keeping Arizona safe from smuggling violence,” he said.

The investigation, according to the authorities, began in December 2008 with the discovery of $230,000 in cash during a routine traffic stop by a Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy.

Babeu said federal and state authorities were called into the investigation to help handle the “size and scope of this criminal organization.” The sheriff also credited SWAT teams from the Mesa and Tempe police departments, as well as the Department of Public Safety, for helping execute high-risk search warrants.

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