Three people have been arrested, and 10 suspects are sought in connection with a widespread East Texas drug trafficking operation with ties to a Mexican drug cartel.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said Tuesday, the many illegal marijuana grows are tied to the Los Zetas cartel.
“It’s not just marijuana,” Smith said. “It’s associated with stolen fire arms and methamphetamines. It’s going to stop here in East Texas.”
Law enforcement identified Eduardo Ramirez Pineda as a leader of the lcal drug trafficking organization. Pineda oversaw the daily operations of at least 15 marijuana cultivation sites in East Texas. He along with Benito Duarte Ramirez are considered fugitives and are among 10 suspects being sought.
The 15 marijuana cultivation sites span at least nine East Texas counties including Smith. Federal State and local law enforcement agencies partnered in this investigation which lasted from July 2015 to December 2016.
From July 2015 to November 2016 officials seized 77,000 marijuana plants from 15 sites. Those plants have an estimated street value of more than $101 million.
Judge Christi Kennedy issued arrest warrants for the 13 suspects, three of whom have been located and arrested. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also detained several others who were present during the arrest.
ILLEGAL MARIJUANA CULTIVATION SITES BY COUNTY AND PLANT COUNT
JULY 2015(X3) SMITH COUNTY 22,000
MARCH 2016 SMITH COUNTY 4,000 (cups w/seeds)