News Release
October 10, 2008
For Information Contact,
Special Agent Ramona Sanchez
Public Information Officer
(602) 664-5725

Major Drug Smuggling Operation Crushed
Nearly three million dollars seized, 64 suspects indicted

OCT 10 -- (Phoenix, AZ) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), together with the Glendale Police Department (GPD), the Surprise Police Department (SPD), the Peoria Police Department (PPD) and the County Attorney’s Office announced today that the Westside Task Force has shut down a drug smuggling operation based in the west Valley.

A Maricopa County Grand Jury has handed up two indictments identifying 64 suspects listing 128 counts. Those charges include Possession of Marijuana for Sale, Illegal Control of an Enterprise, Money Laundering, Possession of Narcotic Drugs for Sale, and Misconduct Involving Weapons.

The Westside Task Force, which includes the DEA, GPD, SPD, and the PDD along with the County Attorney’s Office, launched an investigation in October 2007. The organization was allegedly smuggling drugs from Mexico through Maricopa County and into states including Massachusetts, Texas and Georgia. 26 search warrants were served. Among the items seized:

  • 2,400 pounds of marijuana with a street value of 1.2 million dollars
  • 78 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of 1.5 million dollars
  • $2,890,860.00 in US Currency
  • More than 50 firearms
  • More than 30 vehicles

"These arrests deal a major blow to alleged drug dealers that have helped make the Phoenix Metropolitan area a primary hub for drug distribution," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth W. Kempshall. "By dismantling this group, DEA and our partners have seized nearly 3 million dollars of dirty money and taken hundreds of pounds of dangerous drugs and numerous weapons off our streets. Our communities are benefiting today from the law enforcement partnerships in Arizona who will go the distance to make our neighborhoods safe".

Warrants were served over a period of nine months. The indictments were handed up September 25. 15 suspects are in custody and the search continues for the remaining defendants. Most of them are out of state or in Mexico. The accused ring leader, Rigoberto Santillanes (DOB 11/6/69), is among those in custody. Investigators believe the smugglers were in business for two years as a distribution arm of a Mexican drug cartel. We are working with Mexican authorities to establish that connection.

County Attorney Thomas stated, “This is one of many examples of our close cooperation with law enforcement. By pooling resources we get more drug smugglers off the streets and faster. Last month we indicted 52 defendants in connection with a meth ring in Tempe. Drug corridors represent a threat to the safety of Valley neighborhoods as dealers look for new and more violent ways to get drugs from Mexico and into the United States.”

Assistant Surprise Police Chief John Poorte said, “We deeply appreciate being part of such a great collaborative effort.”

Deputy County Michelle Vaitkus is prosecuting the case.