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Arrest in ETX marijuana fields linked to Mexican drug cartel, deputies say

TYLER - Law enforcement agencies began arresting numerous suspects in connection with 15 marijuana fields discovered in nine East Texas counties within the past two years.

According to a press release from the Smith County Sheriff's Office, multiple local, state and federal law enforcement officers began arresting numerous Mexican Nationals Tuesday morning who have been determined to be involved with numerous illicit marijuana grows in the East Texas area.

Thirteen state arrest warrants were issued by 114th State District Judge Christi Kennedy with recommended bonds of $200,000 each excluding Eduardo Pineda and Benito Ramirez whose bonds are recommended at $400,000.

Three of the thirteen suspects have been located and arrested. Immigration Customs Enforcement ICE has also detained several other individuals who were present during the arrests made this morning.

Operation Joint Venture was initiated on July 28, 2015 in northeastern Smith County with the eradication of three illicit marijuana cultivation sites and the seizure of an estimated 22,000 marijuana plants. These seizures were initiated by the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigation Division and the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.

As a result of this investigation, several suspects connected to the above mentioned clandestine marijuana operation were identified. The investigation continued on this group based out of Tyler, Texas through December of 2016.

Eduardo Ramirez Pineda was identified as a leader within the local drug trafficking organization and was overseeing the daily operations of at least fifteen marijuana cultivation sites in East Texas. Pineda is considered a fugitive at this time as well as Benito Duarte Ramirez.

These fifteen illicit marijuana cultivation sites were located in numerous counties within East Texas including Smith, Sabine, Houston, Harrison, Upshur, Morris, Anderson, Van Zandt and Henderson counties. Assistance was received from law enforcement within all of these counties. Through investigative interviews, it was determined this organization is linked to the Los Zetas Cartel.

In all, from July of 2015 to November of 2016, approximately 77,000 individual marijuana plants were seized from fifteen sites. Utilizing DEA’s formula for estimating the quantity of marijuana that could have been produced from these plants it is estimated that approximately 169,400 pounds of marijuana would have been produced. Estimating the cost per pound at $600, approximately $101,640,000 was disrupted from aiding illegal activities of Mexico based cartels.

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