L.A. drug bust

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Federal agents arrested 17 drug suspects in and around Los Angeles today, breaking up a network that imported Mexican cocaine, heroin and “high purity” crystal methamphetamine.

Forty-three people have been charged in the investigation, Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Warrants served at a dozen locations, including a Van Nuys taco shop and a North Hollywood auto repair business, netted 17 arrests. Four other defendants were in custody, and 22 other suspects named in the indictment remained at large, Mrozek said.

Most of the at-large defendants are believed to be in Mexico.

The charges were based on a 10-month wiretap investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, the Torrance Police Department and IRS-Criminal Investigations.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed this morning, agents focused on a “loose-knit ring of drug importers, couriers and distributors operating throughout Southern California.”

An affidavit for a warrant discussed four loosely related “cells,” one of which was allegedly operated by Gerardo Celis Gaytan, 41, of Sun Valley, who operates Campos Auto Repair in North Hollywood.

Drugs allegedly were smuggled from Mexico into this country inside vehicles that Gaytan’s auto repair shop had outfitted with hidden compartments, authorities said. Gaytan was among the arrestees this morning.

The suspect also allegedly smuggled drugs in tubes of household silicone sealant.

“This investigation has dealt a serious blow to a trafficking network we believe was funneling significant quantities of high-grade methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin into the Los Angeles area,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Invesigations in Los Angeles.

In the past three months, authorities have seized about 135 pounds of methamphetamine, 15 kilograms of cocaine, 1.2 pounds of black tar heroin and $100,000 in cash.

Also arrested today was Gregorio Martinez Rios, 42, of North Hollywood, who allegedly used his Van Nuys taco shop to store illegal drugs, and who allegedly supplied Gaytan with cocaine.

Roberto Murillo Sanchez, 50, of Palmdale, also was arrested today. He allegedly made methamphetamine at his home and supplied Gaytan and others with methamphetamine and cocaine.

Defendants arrested today were expected to make their initial appearances in federal court in Los Angeles and San Diego this afternoon.

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