The seizure of over 100 pounds of methamphetamine, street priced at over $11 million, led to the arrest of 52 individuals in a large-scale Batesville based drug consortium.
In an action labeled Operation Tienda Hielo, or Ice Storm, multi-agency cooperation has severed the head of the snake after the three-year trafficking investigation.
The investigation revealed that the drug ring was not only selling portions of shipments locally but was also transporting and redistributing high potency (80 percent and higher) meth called Ice, to other cities such as Memphis, Kansas City, Des Moines, Iowa and Indianapolis, according to authorities.
Officials say Interstates 40 and 30 were the primary arteries used for transporting the drugs to Arkansas. After the drugs were produced in Mexico, the drug shipments would travel across the border to one of three hubs, San Diego, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., and Dallas, Texas.
According to the DEA, the drugs would then be routed to Arkansas and finally Batesville.
Authorities said on multiple occasions, the drugs were hidden inside automobiles loaded on a multi-vehicle transport carrier. Once the carrier arrived in Batesville, the vehicles would be unloaded and driven to locations where the drugs were removed.
Individuals involved would then buy goods with the drug money and resell the products in Mexico to convert the assets back into cash.
According to authorities, even if the ice had sold locally in large quantities such as pounds, it would have grossed well over $2 million.
As of press time, the investigation has resulted in the plea of guilty by 10 individuals, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Numerous others have been charged. Of the three federal defendants who have already been sentenced, the lengthiest prison term handed down by the courts has been 11 years and five months although, authorities say they expect lengthier sentences for others.
Juan Aguilar, Edel Sandoval, Felip Valdez-Cortez, Sr. and Alfredo Martinez are still on the lam.
"Fortunately, we are seeing some real progress in the war on methamphetamine," United States Attorney Jane Duke said. "We see this progress firsthand through investigations like Operation Tienda Hielo. We also see this progress echoed in national drug statistics, which reflect a rise in the price of methamphetamine, a lower number of seizures and a lower level of overall drug purity."
"All of this tells us that we are seriously and negatively impacting the illegal meth trade," Duke said.
"This operation was a textbook example of true multi-agency coordination," William J. Bryant, assistant special agent in charge of the Little Rock District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration said. "Through the invaluable assistance of our federal, state and local partners, we have been able to disrupt and dismantle a significant narcotics trafficking organization with ties to a violent Mexican drug cartel. Quite frankly, results don't get much better than this," he said.
Bryant went on to say that state and local agencies who helped in the operations are entitled to an equitable share of any assets seized in the investigation.
"That's quite significant in this case since we have seized and forfeited over $247,000 in assets," Bryant said.