Drug Cartel Smashed, Mexicans Say


Mexican authorities said Tuesday that they had smashed the country's main synthetic drug cartel, dealing a powerful blow to methamphetamine trafficking into California and other American states.

Mexico's top anti-drug official, Mariano Herran Salvatti, told reporters that police arrested the suspected cartel leaders, Luis and Jesus Amezcua-Contreras, and seized 125 properties and businesses that were being used to smuggle the drugs and launder the profits.

The brothers are both wanted in the United States. Jesus, described by authorities as the cartel leader, was indicted on drug-trafficking charges in San Diego in February 1993, and Luis was indicted in Los Angeles in December 1994 on methamphetamine and money-laundering charges.

The apparent breakup of one of the country's major drug-trafficking cartels was a welcome victory for Mexican authorities, who have been embarrassed and angered by last month's U.S. money-laundering investigation resulting in the arrest of scores of suspects, including 26 Mexican bankers.

Mexico has protested furiously that U.S. Customs Service and Drug Enforcement Administration investigators carried out the probe without informing their Mexican colleagues and did clandestine undercover work on Mexican soil. U.S. officials have apologized but said they had to maintain complete secrecy during the probe.

Herran noted that U.S. officials had been kept informed of the Amezcua investigation, and he said it was a demonstration of the effective cooperation the two countries can achieve in the war against drug trafficking.

In Washington, DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine commended the Mexican government for the arrests.

"The Amezcua brothers run the largest methamphetamine and chemical trafficking organization identified by U.S. law enforcement," Constantine said, "and the arrest and removal of these two key leaders should significantly disrupt the established methamphetamine trade which is carried out by organized crime leaders in Mexico."

The Amezcua brothers, including Adan, the alleged third leader of the cartel who was arrested in Mexico in November, began their careers working as smugglers for the Colombian cocaine cartels, according to U.S. and Mexican authorities. The brothers allegedly moved into methamphetamine in the late 1980s and built up contacts with Asian and European suppliers to obtain the chemicals needed to produce the drug.

Herran described the brothers' business as Mexico's fourth-largest drug cartel, after the Juarez, Tijuana and Gulf cartels, which focus on cocaine trafficking.

Authorities in Los Angeles announced in December that they had dismantled a large methamphetamine ring that was allegedly supplied by the Amezcuas. The 17 suspects, who purportedly worked for a Southland family called the Anguianos, were alleged to have set up three clandestine methamphetamine labs in Acton, Maywood and Apple Valley in San Bernardino County that could produce more than 600 pounds of drugs a day.

That effort formed part of Operation Meta, a campaign to combat the surging methamphetamine trade across the United States.

Herran called the Amezcua arrests the largest blow to drug traffickers in Mexico this year. Luis Amezcua was arrested in Guadalajara on Monday. Jesus was picked up in Mexico City on Tuesday.

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