Federal agents arrested 28 suspected gang members and associates in New Mexico as part of a national roundup of gang members linked to drug and human trafficking.
Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations announced Wednesday that members and associates affiliated with two gangs in Albuquerque, southern New Mexico and the Four Corner’s region were in federal custody. Authorities also seized drugs with a street value of close to $300,000.
The roundup was part of a national operation known as “Project Nefarious” which nabbed more than 600 gang members with outstanding warrants across the country.
Authorities believe the New Mexico gangs are linked to drug and human trafficking in Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
Federal agents have arrested around two dozen suspected gang members linked to what authorities are describing as a meth and heroin ring in New Mexico.
Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations are scheduled to announce details of the statewide gang roundup today at their new offices south of Albuquerque. More details will be available online after the 2 p.m. news conference.
Homeland Security Investigations said the operation targeted known gang members in Albuquerque and Farmington near the Navajo Nation.
The roundup of gang members comes after law enforcement agencies around New Mexico have asked federal officials to assist cash-strapped departments in battling gangs, drug trafficking and weapons violations. But as federal authorities have moved into places like Roswell and Las Cruces, violent drug cartels have increased their presence in the remote area of northwest New Mexico that borders Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
Federal authorities said that by getting involved and charging criminals in federal court, they can increase the amount of prison time.
In recent months, Homeland Security agents assisted local law enforcement agencies in more than 20 criminal investigations that will be prosecuted by U.S. attorneys, said Dennis Ulrich, a deputy special agent in charge of the agency’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The federal government can also seize criminals’ money and possessions when they are convicted.
Since 2009, Homeland Security Investigations has added around 60 new agents to New Mexico and helped formed a number of joint task forces and multiagency groups aimed at tackling rural gangs, political corruption, drug and gun trafficking, child pornography, and human smuggling.
The beefed-up presence has resulted in a string of recent high-profile arrests, federal officials said. In March, for example, the mayor of the border town of Columbus and its police chief were among those arrested in a drug and weapons raid following a federal investigation into firearms smuggling from the U.S. to Mexico. The mayor and police chief later pleaded guilty to federal charges.