'This is a big one,' feds announce Utah drug bust that goes up cartel chain
(KUTV) Two-dozen suspects are now facing federal drug charges after a coordinated law-enforcement strike on an alleged international drug cartel operating in Salt Lake County.
U.S Attorney for Utah John Huber was flanked by top brass from several police departments and the DEA, FBI, and U.S. Marshall Service to announce the bust at a news conference Friday morning.
“There’s more out there, but this is a big one,” Huber said. “If you are a gang member, know this, you think you are targeting us, well, we are targeting you”
Federal indictments list a narrative that details the involvement of the 24 defendants who were taken into custody along with the seizure of 17 guns, and 40-pounds of meth.
Court documents outline several locations, including West Jordan, Murray, West Valley City, and Salt Lake City as points of operations for the drug ring. In March, federal agents intercepted a drug sale of an estimated $14,000 that was set to happen at a Trax platform in Murray.
Law enforcement sources confirm there were coordinated raids on multiple locations in the county within the last few weeks.
DEA district agent in charge Brian Besser said the ring was operating like a business with supply chains and sales territory.
“Drug traffickers always hammer their problems on the streets within our communities through violence,” Besser said. “Drugs and gangs go hand in hand, and one facilitates the other.”
Besser described the arrests as “swinging the bat as hard as we can.” The bust led federal authorities to Raul Enrique Lizarraga Lopez, who goes by the street name “Maestro.” He is believed to be a key player in the drug cartel that ships drugs from Mexico to Utah. “Maestro” is currently in police custody in California, but may be brought to Utah to face charges.
While the bust is an accomplishment for police, several chiefs said at the news conference that they are concerned about who will try to take the place of the now-arrested drug trafficking suspects.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said the void will always be filled until the ‘appetite’ for drugs is eliminated.
One of the key operating points for the drug ring was at an unsuspecting West Jordan home on West Georges Circle. 2News spoke to neighbors who said the home where the suspects lived is now vacant, but they did see expensive cars coming and going from the house at all hours for several months.
“It makes me real angry, it’s just stupidity,” Neighbor Edgar Marquez said. “They don’t think about anyone but themselves, and their money. They don’t think about everybody else’s families.”
The defendants’ cases will be handled in the federal court in Salt Lake City.