LOS ANGELES Police in southern California have arrested 60 people and broken up an Iraqi criminal ring accused of selling drugs, machine guns and improvised bombs out of an immigrant social club, authorities said on Thursday.
The swoop by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and local police targeted a network operating out of El Cajon, which is near San Diego and close to the border with Mexico.
El Cajon police said the criminal organization of individuals of Iraqi descent had suspected ties to the Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate, a criminal group founded in the early 1980s in Detroit, Michigan.
The group has historical ties to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and the Mexican Mafia, a Mexican-American prison gang, the police said.
The six-month long investigation led to seizures of marijuana, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, and prescription drugs including Vicodin, Oxycontin, Codeine, Xanex and Percocet, El Cajon police said in a statement.
Additional seizures include over $630,000 in cash, three luxury cars and 34 firearms including machine guns and semi-automatic assault rifles, as well as four improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Police said the investigation followed complaints of criminal activity at the Iraqi immigrant social club in El Cajon over many years, ranging from drug sales to illegal gambling and prostitution.
In April 2011 a DEA undercover agent was shown a hand grenade at the club, and was told that more of the weapons obtained from a Mexican military source were available.
Those arrested face an array of state and federal charges for offenses including conspiracy to distribute narcotics, and possession and distribution of automatic weapons.
Police said the operation is ongoing, and that they expect to make further arrests.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan)