By Tim Klass
SEATTLE — Federal agents busted a drug-trafficking ring that distributed methamphetamine and cocaine from Mexico in Washington state and carried unusually powerful weaponry, injecting a dangerous new factor into drug crime in the region.
A .50-caliber Desert Eagle pistol, AK-47-type semiautomatic assault rifle and 14 other weapons shown to reporters Thursday were among 23 guns seized in Operation Arctic Chill when 35 search warrants were served in the past two weeks. Also seized were 19 pounds of methamphetamine, a quarter-pound of cocaine, 22 vehicles and $60,000 in cash, and 31 people were arrested.
The Desert Eagle pistol can "blow a hole the size of a Mack truck through a person," said Leigh Winchell, regional chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Arnold R. Moorin, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Seattle office, said the ring was directed by a cartel in Jalisco, Mexico, and could move 50 pounds of crystal meth and "multiple kilograms of cocaine" a month.
Drug dealing and violence led by Mexican cartels has been an increasing concern in communities nationwide amid a spate of violence on both sides of the border.
"Knowing that you have meth traffickers on the street carrying .50-caliber handguns or assault rifles is very sobering and is of great concern to us," Winchell said.
"This number of weapons is unprecedented" for meth and cocaine raids in the Pacific Northwest, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan added.
Rampant violence among rival drug cartels in Mexico "has spilled over ... somewhat to the (U.S.) communities on the border," Sullivan said. "Our concern is that, with these kinds of weapons and with traffickers beginning to carry weapons on a more regular basis, we unfortunately could see the same kinds of things here."
Bonney Lake Police Chief Mike L. Mitchell said patrol officers were gratified by the weapons seizure but had not seen any less drug-related crime or cocaine and meth dealing and usage since the arrests.
In addition to the 31 people arrested in the drug case, an undisclosed number were detained for potential immigration violations, Winchell said.
Raids were conducted in Tacoma, Olympia and nearby communities; Vancouver, Wash.; several Seattle suburbs; and Oakdale, Calif., where Moorin said a "superlab" capable of producing 10 pounds of meth at a time was found in a home.
Family relationships helped ensure loyalty within the group, Winchell and Moorin said.
The kingpin was identified as Martin Oseguera-Chavez, 50, of Roy. Also arrested and charged were his wife, two of their daughters, one daughter's husband and the other's ex-husband, and the sister of Oseguera-Chavez's wife.
Oseguera-Chavez, a Mexican citizen who has likely been in the U.S. for more than a dozen years, will likely plead not guilty to drug charges, said Michael Craig Nance, his court-appointed lawyer. He also was detained on an immigration hold. According to court filings, the investigation began April 10, 2008, after a confidential informant told an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent that the owner of a store in Tacoma was looking for customers who could buy large quantities of meth.
The store owner's boss turned out to be Oseguera-Chavez, who told another informant he paid $13,000 to $14,000 a pound for meth and sold it for $18,000 to $19,000 in Washington state, a DEA agent wrote. The store owner has been arrested but not charged, said Lorie Dankers, an ICE spokeswoman.
Only two or three of those in custody were cocaine or meth users, said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office.
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"They don't take these drugs. They just sell them," Sullivan said.