U.S. News

Arizona cops bust ring smuggling cash to Mexico

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A criminal ring that Arizona police said used a shuttle service to smuggle drug and human trafficking profits to Mexico has been broken up with 47 people indicted, authorities said on Friday.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said the firm shuttling passengers from Phoenix to Sonoyta, Caborca and Puerto Penasco in Mexico moved some $2 million a month in dirty money for at least 20 different human and drug trafficking organizations.

The people indicted included drivers and other employees of the shuttle firm. They face a range of charges including money laundering, conspiracy and illegally conducting a business as well as weapons and drug possession.

“(The operation) is very important both because of the dollar volume which has now been cut off ... but also all the other drug and human smuggling operations that were all damaged by this particular effort,” Goddard told Reuters.

Last year U.S. border police arrested more than 1 million immigrants crossing illegally from Mexico, and impounded hundreds of tons of narcotics.

Investigators in Arizona say organized criminal networks haul hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants through the desert state each year, as well drugs including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

The operation involving the Phoenix Police Department and federal law enforcement agencies seized $1.4 million in cash, together with some 3.5 tons of marijuana and 55 pounds (25 kg) of methamphetamine.

Prosecutors said drug dealers would drop off cash to the shuttle van service in Phoenix. The drivers would then strap the money to their bodies, drive to the border crossing at Lukeville in southern Arizona, and then walk the cash south over the border.

Once in Mexico, the cash proceeds were handed on to the various trafficking networks for the payment of an unspecified fee.

Goddard said the cash smuggling operation had likely increased in scale following the success of a recent crackdown on wire transfer firms that had been widely used by criminals to shift hot money.