June 9 (UPI) -- A two-year Los Angeles Strike Force investigation resulted in the arrest of 22 suspected members of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization.
On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictment of seven members linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. They were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Another defendant was already in a California prison on unrelated charges and 14 others, including four whose true names are not yet known, are fugitives mostly believed to be in Mexico.
They face potential sentences of life without parole in federal prison.
The Strike Force, led by the FBI, seized narcotics with an approximate street value in Los Angeles of more than $6 million, including approximately 290 pounds of methamphetamine, 280 pounds of cocaine, 30 pounds of heroin and 81 pounds of marijuana. Authorities also seized 33 firearms, three vehicles with hidden compartments and $1.3 million in cash.
The Justice Department said the Strike Force uncovered a sophisticated international drug trafficking network that regularly transported narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border, then often stored drugs in "stash houses" across the San Gabriel Valley. The narcotics then were distributed throughout the United States and proceeds from the sales were then funneled back to Mexico, according to the indictment.
"The stream of narcotics coming into the United States fuels violence in local neighborhoods and contributes to the current drug epidemic in the United States," said Deirdre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office. "Today's multi-agency operation is the result of a lengthy investigation targeting cartel members for their roles in an international drug importation network that enriched Mexico-based cartel members while American communities were being adversely affected. The FBI will continue to address this crime problem by working with our law enforcement partners and by engaging with leaders of communities affected by narcotics trafficking."
The force also included Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Marshals Service and the Azusa Police Department.
Lead defendant Jeuri Limon Elenes -- also known as "Prude," "Rzr," "Fox" and "Royal Nuevo" -- is a fugitive. He is charged with acquiring narcotics in Mexico and arranging for the transportation of the drugs into the United States.
The Los Angeles Strike Force was formed in 2014 to target Mexican drug cartels that used the Los Angeles metropolitan region as a primary hub for the nationwide distribution of narcotics.
"When drug traffickers amass large quantities of cash from narcotics sales, they often attempt to legitimize these ill-gotten profits through the use of banks and financial institutions," said R. Damon Rowe, special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation.