By Jeff Wilson
The Associated Press
VENTURA, Calif. — The arrest of a man dubbed Mexico's "king of heroin" has disrupted a $10 million-a-month operation that smuggled tons of heroin a year into the United States, authorities said Monday.
A regional task force in Ventura County spent more than two years working its way up a chain of drug dealers that led to Jose Antonio Medina, who was arrested last week in Mexico, prosecutors and law enforcement officials said at a news conference. Wiretaps and surveillance led to two midlevel dealers in Downey and Oxnard who allegedly got the drug from Medina, and the seizure of more than 130 pounds of heroin in Ventura County.
Plastic-wrapped bricks of the tar heroin, along with 28 pounds of methamphetamine and more than $215,000 in cash were displayed for reporters.
Medina, 36, who was nicknamed "Don Pepe," was arrested Wednesday in the western state of Michoacan. Ventura County prosecutors plan to request his extradition in the next few days, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ryan Wright said.
"I have every reason to believe that he will be extradited" but the process could take weeks or even months, Wright said.
Mexican officials are cooperating, but the paperwork must be translated into Spanish and reviewed by authorities and a judge in that country, he said.
When he arrives, Medina will be held on $750,000 bail, Wright said. He is charged with conspiracy to transport narcotics for sale from noncontiguous counties, with a special allegation that the drugs exceeded 40 kilograms, according to a criminal complaint filed in January 2009.
He could face up to 29 years in state prison if convicted. It was unknown if Medina had an attorney.
Medina is believed to have shipped 440 pounds of heroin a month across the border in cars with hidden compartments, authorities said. Most of the profit went back to Mexico the same way.
The heroin had a street value of $60 to $80 a gram, meaning the shipments were worth more than $10 million a month, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks said.
The drug was sold from San Diego to San Jose, authorities said.
"It was being supplied in massive quantities out into the streets," Wright said. He added that "dozens of people" who got their drugs through Medina's network already have been prosecuted.
The alleged operation was based in Michoacan, the base for La Familia cartel. The state has seen increasing violence as rival gangs fight for power and Mexican authorities proceed with their war on drugs.
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Wright said Medina had permission from La Familia to sell the heroin but he was not believed to be a high-ranking member of the cartel and has not been linked to any violence.