USA

Task force snares $4 million and a slew of drug dealers visiting from out of state

After a series of undercover operations, an Inland Empire task force has cracked down on drug trafficking, seizing $4 million and arresting 51 people on narcotics-related charges, authorities said.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of many businesses that drug traffickers used to conceal their transactions, some dealers came to Southern California with cash in hand, according to a news release from the California attorney general’s office.

“The increase in narcotic proceeds seizures is believed to be, in part, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on businesses, which has made it harder for drug trafficking organizations to transfer or launder narcotic proceeds through commonly used businesses that were forced to temporarily close due to the pandemic,” the attorney general’s office said.

Prosecutors say trafficking has been mostly person to person since the pandemic forced the shutdown of the majority of businesses in the state. Traffickers have come to the Golden State from as far away as Florida and Maine, authorities said.

In 17 operations over 60 days, the Inland Crackdown Alliance — a coalition of federal, state and local enforcement agencies — intercepted a “significant increase in out-of-state major narcotics traffickers” who came to California to obtain drugs intended for distribution elsewhere.

Officials reported a 300% to 500% spike in arrests. The suspects hailed from Washington, Texas, Ohio, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Georgia.

No drugs were seized during the operations, but Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said the arrests should send a message to those involved in the narcotics trade.

“Even during the pandemic,” he said, “we will continue to hold criminals accountable.”

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