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18 Arrested, Drug Labs Seized in Sweep of Alleged Mexican Drug Trafficking Cartel in Santa Clara County

A federal and local probe into a major Mexican drug cartel operating in Santa Clara County has led to 18 arrests and the seizure of drug labs, weapons, cash and $500,000 in illegal drugs, according to the District Attorney's Office.

"Mexican cartels are using Silicon Valley as a major artery for the flow of illegal drugs," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement.

One of the 18 people arrested was Esdras Avila "Blanco" Carrillo, considered a high-level member of a Mexico-based cartel that has been distributing millions in illegal drugs in the South Bay and the Peninsula, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier said.

While being placed under arrest, Carrillo allegedly tried to disarm a police officer of his gun, according the district attorney's office. The suspects in custody were to be arraigned on criminal charges today and Friday, Vanier said.

The law enforcement investigation, involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the district attorney's office, got its start with the arrest and conviction of a low-level drug dealer in the county in 2012, according to prosecutors.

That case eventually led to Carrillo and a meth lab in Elk Grove in Sacramento County that was named "The Store," where millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine was being manufactured each month.

Authorities also seized quantities of weapons, marijuana, thousands of dollars in laundered cash and a lab used for making concentrated cannabis.

During the probe, officers seized more than 45 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, with a combined street value of $500,000, from traffic stops and other operations.

The investigation was called "Operation Five Degrees," based on the drug distribution organization that law enforcement discovered at the local dealer level, and led to a major ring that ran millions in illegal drugs from Mexico to Northern California, according to Vanier.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Jay Fitzpatrick said that the cartel's drug trade operation "distributed a variety of controlled substances throughout the South Bay Area and beyond."

"These arrests and seizures demonstrate the significance of cooperative law enforcement efforts which contributed to the overall success of this investigation," Fitzpatrick said.

--Bay City News

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