D.E.A. Police leave a house located on N. Washington Avenue near W. 11th Street Thursday morning during a massive operation involving more than 150 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. (Mark Wilson Photo)
A massive sting operation on Thursday resulted in 67 people being arrested on charges of drug trafficking.
The operation was a combined county, state and federal effort, including Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force and Mobile Enforcement Team from the DEA’s El Paso Division Office.
Officers from the New Mexico State Police, RPD’s SWAT team and sheriff’s deputies from Chaves County, along with deputies from Eddie, Lea and Otero counties also participated.
First Assistant District Attorney Steve Yarbrough, representing the U.S Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales, and DEA Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit announced during a press conference Friday that 57 Roswell residents have been charged with federal drug trafficking offenses.
Another 27 Roswell residents were charged with state drug trafficking offenses, which will be prosecuted by District Attorney for the 5th Judicial District Janetta B. Hicks.
Of the 84 warrants issued, 49 of the people facing federal charges are in police custody and 17 people with state charges were apprehended. Seventeen individuals remain at large and are considered fugitives. Three additional subjects were arrested on felony charges.
“A total of 25 were identified as gang members, from Southside, Northside and Crazy Town Roswell and the Mexican Mafia,” said Yarbrough, “Forty-three had extensive criminal histories.”
The operation began at 4:30 a.m. Thursday with the final arrests made around 9 p.m. The effort involved more than 150 federal state and local law enforcement officers. Six search warrants were issued and executed. Thursday’s searches yielded 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamines, 1 kilogram of cocaine, heroine, marijuana and pharmaceutical drugs.
The operation started in June, following a request to the federal government from the Roswell Police Department, and initiated an intensive three-month-long investigation.
Prior to the final sting, 2,446 gross grams of methamphetamine, 861 gross grams of cocaine, 338 gross grams of heroin, 133 gross grams of marijuana and pharmaceutical narcotics were obtained through undercover drug purchases and seizures.
In addition, officials seized 14 firearms, four AK-47 rifles, four AR-15 rifles and six semi-automatic handguns during the investigation. On Thursday, agents confiscated five more firearms and five vehicles.
Those facing state charges made their first court appearances in Roswell, Thursday. The individuals facing federal charges remain in custody pending detention hearings that will be held in federal court in Las Cruces next week.
Hicks praised the efforts of the law enforcement personnel involved in the operation.
“This operation shows what can happen when federal and state government combine and the impact it can have,” Hicks said. “It is said that 80 percent of crimes are committed by 20 percent of the people. I’d say yesterday we took a big bite out of that 20 percent.”
Roswell Police Chief Al Solis warned offenders, “It’s not over yet. To the people involved in illegal activity, get out of town, we’re coming after you.”
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 38 years, and I’ve never seen a drug raid of this magnitude. … As a policeman I like to see this, and as a citizen I really like to see it,” said Chaves County Sheriff James “Rob” Coon.
Coon explained the presence of other counties in Roswell’s operation, “We needed man power. One of the counties brought in a drug sniffing dog.”
City officials witnessed the start of the operation. Mayor Del Jurney expressed his pride in local law enforcement. “To go out and see what our people put themselves through when they don’t know what they face.”
Capt. Dina Orozco of the New Mexico State Police said, “I want to say thanks to all the agents, to all of you for what you are doing.”
All present agreed that Roswell was going to be a safer place for its residents.
City Administrator Larry Fry credited Al Solis with getting the resources together for the sting operation.
Agent Arabit said the last DEA operation held in Roswell took place in 1995. It resulted in 35 to 40 arrests. However, he said the DEA plans to follow up on this year’s successful operation.
Hicks said this will make a significant change in the community.
Solis concurred, saying the operation may help solve other cases.