DENVER – Gang members, a retired Denver firefighter and a college team coach were among 35 people accused of transporting more than 40 pounds of cocaine from Mexico to the Denver area every week, federal officials said Monday.
Officials said the drug ring's source was the Sinaloa cartel, which is in a bloody turf war with the Juarez cartel in Ciudad Juarez, a northern Mexican border city. At least 20 people died in drug-gang violence over the weekend there.
Despite the international supplier, authorities described the operation as "homegrown," with all 35 defendants involved in distributing cocaine in the Denver area. They said cocaine was transported in secret panels in vehicles that traveled into Colorado on Interstate 25.
"If you purchased cocaine in the Denver area in the last two years, it's a very good probability that you purchased it from this supply chain," said Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, whose department is part of a multi-agency drug task force that broke up the ring.
Of the 35 people named in the indictment, 23 were arrested Friday without incident in Colorado. Others taken into custody include two in El Paso, one in Illinois, one in Alabama and one in Nevada. One person was already in custody and six people remain at large.
Those arrested included street gang members, as well as a retired Denver firefighter and an assistant baseball coach at Regis University. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on the drug charges.
"It's beyond surprise," U.S. Attorney John Walsh said of those arrested. "But we take the evidence where the evidence leads us."
Officials with the Metro Gang Task Force, made up of federal and local law enforcement agencies, said $650,000 in cash was seized during the investigation, including more than $500,000 from one home. Authorities also seized more than 100 pounds of cocaine, 35 pounds of marijuana, nine firearms and 15 vehicles.
FBI Special Agent in Charge James H. Davis said the Denver bust sends a message to would be drug distributors: "This is not a good place to do business."