Federal law enforcement officials announced they have made the largest mass drug arrest in Colorado history on Thursday, shutting down four drug rings in the metro area with ties to gangs, bank robbers and Mexican drug cartels.
More than 500 police officers and federal agents went out in the early morning hours, raided 97 homes, and arrested 80 people, said U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh during a Thursday afternoon news conference.
"Several dozens of kilos of cocaine," a dozen firearms and roughly $400,000 in cash were seized, and not one person was hurt, Walsh added.
Of the 80 people who were arrested -- at least 70 of those suspects were in the Denver metro area and 40 of them were targets of a metro gang task force, authorities said.
There are 17 more suspects in Mexico who have been charged but not yet arrested, Walsh said.
The arrested range from major suppliers to middlemen to the people on the street selling cocaine and crack cocaine, federal agents said.
One pound of meth and 12 firearms were also confiscated in the raids.
A dozen kids were removed from their homes as part of the operation.
Drug Ring Connected To Violent Bank Robbery Gang
As CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia first reported, Walsh confirmed that the investigation began about two years ago when authorities arrested members of a notoriously violent bank robbery gang, the Hoppin Hooded Bandits, and Blood street gang members in Aurora and Denver.
Federal and local police agencies had four separate investigations into drug trafficking going on for about a year when the agencies started working together and realized that the puzzle pieces were fitting and links were connected.
"Those multiple investigations began to show overlap and connection," Walsh said.
The investigations into cocaine trafficking united into one large effort, and the arrests of the gang members led agents up the organized crime hierarchy to major drug traffickers in Mexico and California.
Early Thursday, an army of law enforcement agents began arresting drug distributors in Los Angeles along with Denver gang members and Mexican nationals in Colorado, a source told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia. Mexican drug traffickers have been identified and charged in the crackdown, but not yet arrested.
The investigation was aimed at taking down a drug trafficking network between Mexico, Los Angeles and Denver, Ferrugia reported.
The idea was to disrupt and dismantle a major international and interstate drug trafficking operation that was the source of cocaine and crack cocaine for the Denver metro area.
4 Separate Investigations Merged Into One
The investigation into the drug rings began with a series of takeover-style bank robberies in Aurora. It was "an extraordinary event that terrorized our citizens," said Aurora police Chief Dan Oates.
The Hoppin Hooded Bandits were suspected of robbing four banks in one month in 2009.
Surveillance photos from one bank robbery showed a group of three to four men walking into banks wearing hoods and masks and brandishing their weapons. The robbers would leap over counters and desks in take-over style heists.
In February 2010, a man believed to be one of the Hoppin Hooded Bandits was arrested at a Denver home.
Timothy McGlothin had been indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 6, 2010, along with his suspected accomplice, Joshua Licona. Licona was already in federal custody.
The indictment alleged that McGlothin and Licona used a handgun to rob the Bank of Denver, 800 E. 17th Ave., on Dec. 23, 2009. A second count alleges that the two used a handgun during and in relation to a crime of violence, in furtherance of that crime, namely the armed bank robbery.
Police never said whether any of the other Hoppin Hooded Bandits were arrested.
However of the 80 arrested on Thursday, 25 were previously charged in violent bank robberies that occurred from December 2009 to January 2011, Walsh said.
The suspects who were arrested Thursday appeared in federal court at 2 p.m.
Coordinated Effort Between Multiple Agencies Hailed As Huge Success
Thursday's mass bust involved at least 50 organizations, including the FBI, Metro Gang Task Force, Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, the North Metro Drug Task Force, Lakewood Police Department and Aurora Police Department.
"You have 500 cops at 6 in the morning who are taking suspects into custody who were this violent and this dangerous and have nobody hurt, it's remarkable. It's rare that I've seen a sophisticated operation done so well and done so smoothly," said Aurora police Chief Dan Oates.
There were close too 100 arrest warrants and dozens of commanders and supervisors working with their teams to make sure the arrests came about smoothly,
"This was not easy by any stretch of the imagination," one law enforcement agent said.
"This is a big deal for Colorado. It sends a clear message to people bringing drugs and selling, and that is, 'Your day will come,'" Walsh said.
"The local gangs should be on notice. If they are involved in violence and they are involved in drug trafficking ... they will go down," said Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr.
Walsh said the effort to disrupt and dismantle the criminal organizations responsible for drug trafficking in Colorado "is by no means over and will lead to further investigations."
The investigation showed that the drugs were going on the streets of metro Denver, and not meant for any other state.
Adams County District Attorney Don Quick said the bust means that the supply side of the drug chain has been hit but the problem will never truly be resolved until agencies focus on the demand side.
"We need to get our kids early so this demand doesn't exist. If there's always going to be a demand, there's always going to be a supply," Quick said.
He said 80 percent of people sitting in jail currently are connected to drug use in some way.
Walsh said investigators will perform ballistics tests on the weapons that were seized to make sure that they are not connected to any unsolved violent crime.
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