Major Tulare County Drug Bust Linked to Mexican Drug Cartel

September 15, 2009 8:20:33 PM PDT
Fifteen people have been arrested in connection with a large drug trafficking ring in the South Valley. Detectives say the group is tied to a Mexican Drug Cartel, and part of the operation involved a small furniture store.More than 225 officers from Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties met at the International Agri-Center at 4:00 Tuesday morning to lay out their plan for taking down this ring. By 1:00 Tuesday afternoon they'd arrested 15 men and women and seized hundreds of thousands of dollars of marijuana, meth and cocaine.

200 marijuana plants were seized from a large South Valley drug trafficking scheme that culminated after a six-month long undercover investigation. The U.S. Attorney's office says local, state and federal law enforcement agencies worked together as part of this investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Sanchez said, "We're taking drugs off the street and should send a message to drug traffickers that it's just a matter of time before they too get caught."

Sanchez says five people are charged with nine federal counts for possessing and distributing narcotics. Ten other people were charged with state drug-related charges.

Along with the 200 marijuana plants, deputies and federal agents also seized $30,000 dollars in cash, three pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine, guns, several scales, and 50 pounds of processed marijuana.

The sheriff's office says the group is connected to a Mexican drug cartel and the people arrested were dangerous.

Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman said, "This was a major drug trafficking organization that was literally responsible for selling and distributing $100s of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana and methamphetamine

Officers made the arrests and seized the drugs and weapons from sixteen different locations in the Porterville-Strathmore area ... including a Strathmore home, furniture and tire business in Porterville.

People who work next door to Contreras Furniture were suspicious of how the business operated

Houston Voelkel said, "Not too surprised something was happening at the furniture store because it's been there several months and nobody ever bought any furniture out of and then there were always cars in and out there and they were always throwing away boxes."

Investigators anticipate more arrests, the five people facing federal charges if convicted face a mandated 10-year prison sentence and up to life in prison. In total, officers estimate the street-value of the all the drugs they seized at more than 800 thousand dollars.

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