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International sting nets 175 drug arrests, 22 in DFW

Twenty-two north Texas residents have been arrested in an international drug roundup that targeted members of Mexico’s Gulf Coast Cartel, law enforcement officials announced Wednesday.

Some 175 people in the United States and Italy were arrested today in a 15-month sting operation known as "Project Reckoning."

Suspects sold and distributed cocaine and methamphetamine in Texas, Georgia, Illinois and Missouri, according to U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper of the Northern District of Texas.

The investigation was initiated after an arrest in Farmers Branch. The busts in North Texas netted more than $1 million in cash, 400 pounds of methamphetamine and 300 kilograms of cocaine.

"This makes a major dent in drug trafficking in North Texas," said James L. Capra, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration Dallas Division. "This all began because beat officers on the local level did their job."

Because of its access to highways, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has become a major hub for drug traffickers, Capra said.

Nearly $60 million in cash, 40 tons of methamphetamine and cocaine have been confiscated in "Project Reckoning," officials said.

The arrests dealt a substantial blow to the extremely violent Mexican drug cartel, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said.

The Gulf cartel is responsible for importing tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana from Central and South America into the United States, Mukasey said.

The cartel is also believed to have laundered millions of dollars and has become a driving force behind escalating violence in Mexico and along the southwestern border of the United States.

The arrests Tuesday and Wednesday were the result of a coordinated effort among hundreds of law enforcement officials. They were announced in Atlanta, identified as a regional hub for the cartel, where 43 people were arrested.

The Mexico-based cartel has high-level members in other regional hubs, such as Dallas, and is branching out into smaller cities such as Jackson, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala., said Drug Enforcement Administration agent William Matthews.

People were arrested in a dozen states as agents targeted the cartel's infrastructure, including transportation routes and distribution cells.

Through collaboration with Italian authorities, 10 people were also arrested in the Calabria region of Italy on charges related to drugs trafficked through New York.

"We're going after the top leadership on down to regional leaders," Matthews said. "By doing this we're trying to break their spine."

The arrests announced Wednesday were part of a 15-month investigation that has resulted in 507 arrests and the seizure of about $60.1 million, 16,711 kilograms of cocaine, 1,039 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,258 pounds of marijuana, 176 vehicles and 167 weapons.

Officials said indictments were unsealed Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for three alleged leaders of the cartel: Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano and Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez. All three are believed to be in Mexico and are considered priority targets by American authorities, who are working with their Mexican counterparts to catch them.

Staff writer Nathaniel Jones contributed to this report.

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