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MCSO: Arrests topple AZ drug smuggling ring

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Edward Alvarez, 40, of Litchfield Park, is believed to be the ringleader of an international drug smuggling operation and is listed by the U.S. Justice Department as a former cartel member. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Edward Alvarez, 40, of Litchfield Park, is believed to be the ringleader of an international drug smuggling operation and is listed by the U.S. Justice Department as a former cartel member. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

The arrests of eight people, including a former member of the Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico, have broken up a drug smuggling operation in which its members dressed in law enforcement gear and assaulted their buyers, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Edward Alvarez, 40, of Litchfield Park, is believed to be the ringleader of an international drug smuggling operation, according to a news release from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Alvarez, listed by the U.S. Justice Department as a former cartel member, was arrested March 25, one day after three unsuspecting drug buyers were kidnapped and beaten, the release stated.

Emmanuel Acosta, 26, of Phoenix; Moises Saldana-Gallegos, 30, of El Mirage; and Searn Jerome Simmons, Jr., 43, of Tampa, FL, had arranged to purchase 180 pounds of marijuana from Alvarez and his associates.

Deputies said the three men are members of a West Valley gang known as Varrio Tolleson Chicanos, and had between $60,000 and $95,000 in cash on them to purchase the drugs.

They were zip-tied, beaten, robbed and thrown into the trunks of vehicles by assailants wearing police body armor, badges, ballistic helmet, and a Phoenix Police Department patch, according to the release.

Acosta escaped, and Saldana-Gallegos and Simmons were released by their captors shortly after, according to the release.

Alvarez allegedly took his crew out for pizza and drinks to celebrate the haul.

The investigation led to Alvarez's arrest at his home, where deputies said they said they found large amounts of cash hidden in a wall, several weapons, and an array of police badges and other law enforcement "identifiers," according to the release.

Others arrested are:

  • Edward Alvarez, 38
  • Johnny Ray Fernandez, 45
  • David Anthony Ybarra, 32
  • Frank Daniel Ybarra, 34
  • Guadalupe Ortega, 42
  • Robert E. Varner, 20
  • Brandon Jesus Varner, 19

The Varner brothers were the last arrests on April 12, though an unidentified man is still at-large, according to the sheriff's office.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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