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KPBS Midday Edition

North County Crackdown Takes Out Major Heroin Supplier

U.S. Attorney's Office
A wanted poster for some of the fugitives allegedly connected to drug trafficking in North County.

North County Crackdown Takes Out Major Heroin Supplier
North County Crackdown Takes Out Major Heroin Supplier GUEST: Alana Robinson, acting U.S. attorney, Southern District of California

We heard the news last week that 55 people were indicted as part of the crackdown on heroin and methamphetamine trafficking in San Diego's North County. Federal officials say many of those indicted were connected to a drug smuggling ring operating out of Tijuana to the also say the rest were law enforcement response what they call a heroin epidemic in the region. Joining me is acting U.S. attorney, Southern District of California Alana Robinson. Does law enforcement believe that this operation is linked to a drug cartel and Mexico? Absolutely. During the course of our investigation we've learned that the leader of these drug trafficking organizations is linked to the Sinaloa cartel. How much Aravind and methamphetamine was moved into North County by these traffickers and about how long has this been going on? During the investigation, which was almost a year, we were able to document at least a cubic gram of heroin every month. However, it should be noted that the -- has been dealing in heroine for decades. As we sit at the press conference, she was convicted back in 2002. After which she was deported to Mexico. She remained active and she was fond of telling her distributors are supply a study our quality is good and we been in business for decades. It is a family business. So you think she is a leader of this ring? Absolutely. Is in custody? She is still at large and Mexico, but we are working with our Mexican counterparts to apprehend her. Does this indicate that the cartel continues to operate? Unfortunately, that was true. The cartel is large and well populated with a very prolific drug traffickers who are motivated by the huge profit margin and the huge market into man we have here in the United States for illegal drugs. Do prosecutors believe that more than one ink was involved in this operation? Absolutely. We've documented a lease five gigs that were involved in distributing both heroin and methamphetamine that was imported from this organization. Be elected most of the drugs found that smuggled didn't stay in North County? I would say that she was pretty prolific drug traffic her and her marks included North County and also Arizona, Tennessee and Alabama. In announcing these indictments and many of these arrest you talked about heroin epidemic in our community. How much has the use of heroine increased? Unfortunately, the statistics are staggering as to the amount of heroine that has increased. It has more than doubled and it's really tragic that so many people have fallen victim to this terrible drug. As you may know, we have a epidemic here in San Diego as well as throughout the nation. Enforcement is important part of stopping the epidemic, but so was prevention. Law enforcement has felt that many people become heroin addicts after having first become addicted to prescription drugs such as oxycodone, which is prescribed for drug abuse. So the attorney's office in addition to engaging in very aggressive enforcement actions have also been involved with law enforcement and community partners to prevent people from becoming drug addicts in the first place. The use of heroine has increased. Is that apply to methamphetamine? It has. We've had methamphetamine drug addiction problem for a long time. We've seen increases in the number of arrestees web methamphetamine in their system increase. We've seen increase methamphetamine overdoses. So both of these are very troubling trends that we have been trying to combat and we believe that taking these drug traffickers from the latest takedown off the street is going to have a huge impact on the amount of heroine available in the amount of methamphetamine available to be abused up in the North County of San Diego. There's been a marked increase in drug violence in Tijuana in recent months do we see any of that kind of violence happening in Sanyo County? I think whenever you have drug trafficking you have the potential for violence. I would submit that the level of violence that occurs here in the United States is much less than what occurs in Mexico. Mexico unfortunately is not uncommon to have multiple murders including beheadings and tortures because what they are doing down in Mexico is fighting for drug routes, which are very profitable. Here in the United States sometimes you see drug deals go but those are on a smaller scale than the price for lucrative drug trafficking routes from Mexico up into the United States. Several other suspects indicted in this operation including the alleged leader are not in custody they are believed to be in Mexico. How confident are you that they will be caught and extradited. We are very confident that the two fugitives that are in Mexico will be apprehended and will be extradited to the United States. I'm not at liberty to go into the details. We expect that they will be arrested and brought to justice in the United States. Even as you and us and celebrate the fact that this indictment came down and the arrests were made, is it your concern the other gangs are going to take the place of the people who are now under this indictment? That is certainly a concern. Nonetheless, we believe as law enforcement doesn't this type of enforcement is crucial to keeping our streets save. Not only does it take this group of drug traffickers out of commission, but at least for certain period of time it has a documented chilling effect on would be drug traffickers who might be wondering this is a federal prosecution in my next? It forces those who would deal drugs to kind of go underground or sometimes even to stop altogether because of the threat of federal prosecution. I been speaking with acting U.S. attorney, Southern District of California Alana Robinson. Thank you so much. My pleasure.

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged 55 people in a series of drug cases they claimed were some of the most significant yet to deal with San Diego County's rising heroin and methamphetamine use.

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The defendants are tied to a Tijuana-based drug trafficking organization that used San Diego gang members as distributors, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The organization allegedly supplied at least 25 percent of the heroin sold and used in North County.

“We’ve taken out one of North County’s largest heroin suppliers,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said in a prepared statement. “We anticipate seeing a huge impact now that these defendants are removed from our community, particularly in the North County cities of Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and other areas plagued by gangs.”

There were 90 heroin-related deaths in San Diego County in 2015, more than double the 40 deaths a decade earlier, according to Robinson.

Robinson joined KPBS Midday Edition on Monday with more on the bust's impact and who still remains at large.