22 Arrested, 500 Pounds of Meth Seized in California-Mexican Cartel Bust: AG

Twenty-two people were arrested and 500 pounds of methamphetamine valued at $18 million seized from a drug trafficking ring linked to Mexico's Sinaloa Federation drug cartel, law enforcement officials announced on Monday.

The takedown, named Operation Road Trip, represents the culmination of several related investigations that have resulted in 67 arrests and the seizure of 1,109 pounds of methamphetamine valued at $40 million, as well as $1.82 million in cash, over the past six years.

“We will do whatever is necessary with our federal and local partners to dismantle these violent, insidious organizations,” Attorney General Kamala Harris said at a news conference in Contra Costa County on Monday.

She was flanked by representatives from the FBI, the California Department of Justice and Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson, who said the bust was the "largest both in terms of drugs and the cash seized that we know of in the history of Contra Costa County."

Operation Road Trip is the merger of two long-term investigations led by the West Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team Task Force, the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force and other local, state, and federal partners.

During the Operation Road Trip investigation, the task forces discovered that methamphetamine from Mexico was being delivered to the Nitro gang, based in Southern California, Harris' office said. The Nitro gang would make regular “road trips” to Contra Costa County in order to distribute to other drug trafficking groups, including the Urtiz gang based in Northern California, authorities said.

In May of 2011, the state Department of Justice, the FBI and others announced the conclusion of the first of the two long-term investigations, named Operation Red Reach. This operation, a two-year coordinated sweep led by West-NET, shut down a network of local and transnational gangs, including a Nortenos gang in western Contra Costa County. The case resulted in the seizure of 135 pounds of methamphetamine, 26 illegal firearms, approximately $150,000 and federal and state convictions of 26 people. Information and intelligence gained from this operation led to the identification of the Urtiz gang.

West-NET’s subsequent investigation, named Operation Crystal Lens, revealed that the Urtiz gang's methamphetamine was being supplied by the Southern California-based Nitro gang, which was also separately under investigation by LA;s task force, Harris' office said.

Transnational criminal organizations have made California the single biggest point of entry for methamphetamine into the United States, with 70 percent entering through the San Diego Port of Entry.

Earlier this month, Harris announced that the California Department of Justice will create a new anti-methamphetamine team of Special Agents based in Los Angeles funded by a $1 million federal grant.

NBC Bay Area Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report.

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