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DEA Busts 'Home-Delivery' Heroin Ring

Federal agents arrested more than 130 alleged drug traffickers from coast-to-coast Tuesday who U.S. officials said smuggled heroin from Mexico and offered phone-up home delivery like a takeout pizza shop.

Beginning before dawn, Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted arrest raids and searches, seeking up to 150 people, about half of them illegal aliens, according to senior drug enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the official announcement.

The investigation has produced at least 138 arrests in 15 cities, from Charleston, S.C., to Los Angeles, based on 10 federal indictments and state charges, the officials said.

No arrests were made in Mexico but the investigation is continuing, officials said.

Known as Operation Black Gold Rush, the investigation was being described at a news conference here by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher and deputy DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

It's alleged that the ring grew its own poppies and refined them in Mexico before smuggling them into the United States in an unusually pure form of black tar heroin, CBS Radio News' John Hartge reports.

Officials gave this account of how the ring operated:

  • The ring grew its own poppies and refined them in Mexico and smuggled an unusually pure variety of black tar heroin across the U.S.-Mexican border, mostly in Arizona, with couriers on foot or in vehicles. Mexican black tar heroin, a dark and sticky substance, is usually only about 30 to 40 percent pure, well below the purity of Colombian heroin. But among the more than 37 pounds of heroin seized in this case, some was 85 percent pure, officials said.
  • Among other marketing strategies, the gang preyed on recovering heroin addicts. It sent street dealers out from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and operated outside methadone clinics where addicts receive treatment.
  • Packaging a quarter to half a gram of heroin in balloons for convenience, the dealers would offer addicts two free balloons if they bought two balloons.
  • More sophisticated techniques were available for trusted clients. Agents conducted surveillance that showed the gang distributed telephone numbers clients could call. At first a courier would be sent to deliver the heroin to the customer in a car in parking lot, but later after several sales, clients could call and order delivery of heroin to the front door of their home.
  • Couriers bringing money back to Mexico were told to buy a run-down vehicle and stash cash throughout its body, drive across the border, then gather the cash and dump the vehicle.

    Agents seized more than $500,000 in cash that constituted illegal profits from the operation.

    The federal investigation began last November after a single heroin seizure and, in cooperation with state and local police, Tuesday's raids were designed to take down the ring's entire U.S. distribution system from regional sales directors down to street-level dealers.