22 arrested in NM for international car theft, drug trafficking ring

Updated: 06/26/2014 4:02 PM | Created: 06/26/2014 11:54 AM
By: Elizabeth Reed,

Federal and local law enforcement agents on Thursday arrested 22 people throughout New Mexico during the takedown of an international auto theft and drug trafficking ring.

According to Homeland Security Investigations, the arrests resulted from an extensive 10-month investigation known as "Operation VIN-a-Palooza."

The investigation began when the Arizona Department of Public Safety learned about an organized scheme to sell luxury vehicles off car lots in Albuquerque. The ring, which HSI says was allegedly working for the Sinaloa drug cartel, is believed to have stolen hundreds of luxury cars, including Hummers, in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The vehicles were reportedly shipped to Mexico in exchange for drugs that were then trafficked throughout New Mexico.

More than 300 law enforcement agents executed 12 state search warrants in New Mexico, resulting in 22 arrests. Agents seized seven firearms and various amounts of methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

The investigation is ongoing. Federal charges against some of the defendants may be forthcoming.

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