Task force breaks up large-scale Mexico-to-Washington drug ring

SEATTLE -- Prosecutors say a federal task force has taken down a "wide ranging drug trafficking" ring that was responsible for shipping huge quantities of methamphetamine and heroin from Mexico to Washington State.

More than a dozen Mexican nationals living in Washington were arrested Thursday for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to funnel drugs into the state.

Over the the course of the investigation, which began in October 2011, law enforcement seized more than 56 pounds of heroin and more than eight pounds of highly-pure methamphetamine, according to prosecutors.

"This case exemplifies the drug trafficking we see in Western Washington from Mexico-based crime groups. These criminal groups are bringing in heroin, meth and cocaine and poisoning our communities," U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan said in a Thursday statement.

Durkan said the organization smuggled drugs across the Mexican border into Texas and California and then north to Western Washington.

Law enforcement made two large drug seizures earlier this year as part of the investigation.

In the first bust, officers found two kilos of meth hidden in paint cans in the back of a truck that had been stopped in Oregon. In the second bust, investigators found more than 53 pounds of heroin inside the gas tank of a vehicle in Aberdeen.

Each package of heroin was covered in mustard and red pepper, which prosecutors say is a method drug traffickers use to mask the smell of the heroin and throw canines off the scent.

The alleged traffickers were arrested Thursday when law enforcement searched 14 different locations throughout the state. During Thursday's raids, officers found two more pounds of meth, an unknown quantity of heroin, two weapons, six vehicles and more than $20,000 in cash.

The defendants live in Kennewick, Vancouver, Pasco, Aberdeen, Kent, Monroe and Everett. If convicted, each person faces a mandatory minimum ten years in prison because of the quantity of drugs involved, according to prosecutors.