Cartel operatives snagged

Massive drug sweep nets 750 arrests: US

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US and Mexican authorities have arrested 750 people over 21 months in an anti-drug sweep, including 52 members of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel who were detained, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The cartel members were arrested as part of an "international narcotics trafficking and money-laundering investigation called Operation Xcellerator," Holder told a press conference.

The operation -- which investigated crimes in the United States, Mexico and Canada -- netted some 59 million dollars in cash, 12,000 kilos (12 tonnes) of cocaine, 544 kilos (1,200 pounds) of methamphetamine and 1.3 million Ecstasy pills.

"An operation of that scope and magnitude can only be effective with combined forces against the enemy," Holder said, praising cooperation between agencies and governments in the investigation.

Asked by a reporter whether he was worried violence from the world of Mexican drug runners could spill over to US cities and towns, Holder admitted he was "concerned.

"The problems that Mexico faces are also problems that we face," stressed the attorney general.

"We would be naive to think that we can restrict the concerns that the Mexicans have to only Mexico, that the violence will only be there."

The bloody war between rival cartels, fighting for control of drug trafficking into the United States, the world's biggest consumer of cocaine, has produced internal chaos in Mexico.

Unrest related to the drug trade has caused the violent deaths of some 5,300 people throughout the country last year alone, according to official figures, despite a government crackdown that saw the deployment of nearly 36,000 troops.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration's Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, speaking alongside Holder, said the investigation unveiled the scope of the cartel's international network, including a "super meth lab that is so sophisticated we've seen none like it anywhere."

The raids uncovered drug factory machines able to produce 12,000 ecstasy tablets an hour, Leonhart added.

The operation not only took out cartel operatives in larger US cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but in smaller towns like Lancaster, Pennsylvania andBrockton, Massachusetts.

Over the course of a few years, Leonhart said, the northeastern Ohio town of Stow, a relatively sleepy urban region of 35,000 residents, became a hotspot for international drug runners.

"Just underneath the surface of this peaceful city, the Sinaloa cartel had been sending cocaine through this community's local airport," she revealed.

The traffickers regularly ferried dozens of kilos (pounds) of cocaine from California to Stow, she said.

"This cocaine ended up not just on the streets of larger cities like Cleveland and Columbus but also in surrounding small towns and onto the campuses of the schools in the region.

The operation, however, effectively "shut down" drug cartel networks throughout North America, Leonhart added.

"The DEA will continue attacking the international drug trade with every tool at our disposal, fighting to defeat those who put deadly drugs on our streets and engage in violence in our communities," she vowed.

At the end of last year, the DEA said their operations to clamp down on production and supply routes over the preceding 21 months substantially impacted drug quality and cost within the United States.

The price of a gram of cocaine in the United States from January 2007 to September 2008 soared 89 percent, from 96.61 dollars to 182.73 dollars, the anti-drug agency said.

An analysis of 24,000 drug busts across the country, found that cocaine purity dropped during the same period, from 67 percent to 46 percent, the DEA said.