Drug agents arrested a suspected high-ranking Mexican Sinaloa Cartel member in north Oklahoma City this morning during a raid an Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics official said will send shock waves through the law enforcement community.
The target — a 35-year-old Mexican national — represents the strongest evidence to date that the Sinaloa Cartel is trying to establish a foothold in Oklahoma City, which has traditionally been the territory of the equally notorious Juarez Cartel, OBN Executive Director Darrell Weaver said.
The suspect's name as well as the names of others arrested during the sting operation is being withheld because of sealed warrants, OBN spokesman Mark Woodward said. The investigation is ongoing.
"This is a disturbing case," said Weaver, whose agents helped serve 18 arrest warrants and 13 search warrants in an operation that stretched from Tulsa to Elk City. Warrants also were served in Mustang and Norman. At least nine people ranging from users to suppliers were arrested this morning, authorities said.
Undercover agents became aware of their main suspect three months ago, after Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070 — the new immigration law that allows police to search anyone for valid documentation of citizenship.
"Our target received a dispatch from Mexico, and was told to leave Phoenix because of the new immigration law," said an undercover case agent whose name is being withheld to protect his identity. "He was told to set up shop in Oklahoma City. Fortunately, in a very short time, we learned of his presence and were able to infiltrate his operation."
Agents discovered a lucrative operation, and according to the undercover agent, an "established market" from a previous drug ring. Undercover surveillance revealed that an average of 10 pounds of methamphetamine was being shipped into Oklahoma City a week, Weaver said. Ten pounds of methamphetamine can net anywhere from $180,000 to $210,000 on the streets, depending on its purity.
The suspect tried to maintain a low profile by living in a gated apartment complex. But Weaver said his agents were able to track "hundreds of thousands of dollars in wire transfers" to Mexico, where the money was being used to buy land.
OBN alleges the money was being laundered through an Oklahoma City car lot.
Cindy Cunningham, the agency's chief agent on electronic surveillance intelligence, said the suspect had orders to establish similar operations in Kansas City, Denver and Las Vegas.
Weaver described the case as one of the most troubling of his 23-year drug enforcement career. Agents think Juarez Cartel leaders have been preoccupied by infighting and violence on the border, leaving Oklahoma City open for opportunistic Sinaloa Cartel members.
"We were fortunate to infiltrate this organization within two months of the group setting up shop," Weaver said. "I believe the Mexican drug cartels are the number one threat to the safety of Oklahomans, and we must be vigilant in our pursuit of these individuals who want to rob everything good we want for our state while making themselves rich."
"This case shows the effects other states' policies can have on the safety of our state."