U.S. authorities say they have arrested dozens of suspects and broken up a smuggling network that has hauled up to 200 tons of marijuana to the southwestern state of Arizona each year from Mexico since 2003.
The Arizona attorney general's office issued a statement Tuesday, saying 39 people were arrested on felony charges, and nearly 60 people indicted following the investigation. Officials say the network in question, the Garibaldi-Lopez drug trafficking organization, transported drug loads to Phoenix, Arizona, across the remote desert wastes of the Tohono O'Odham Indian reservation, for Mexico's top Sinaloa cartel.
It says the network moved marijuana worth about one billion dollars through Phoenix for redistribution across the United States, and it used so-called "scouts" in the desert to look out for U.S. law enforcement during the smuggling operation.
Authorities say the operation also led to the seizure of cocaine, methamphetamine, thousands of dollars in U.S. currency, vehicles - some of them stolen - and firearms.
Separately, Mexican authorities say a beauty queen from the drug-plagued Sinaloa state has been arrested after she was found riding with suspected traffickers in a truck full of weapons.
Officials say 23-year-old Laura Zuniga was detained late Monday, along with seven men, at a military checkpoint near the city of Guadalajara, in the western state of Jalisco. Officials also say no one expected Zuniga to be in the truck, which they say contained cellphones, cash, pistols, rifles and bullets.
In July, Zuniga won the title of Miss Sinaloa, the northwestern Mexican state where drug lords fight over smuggling routes to the United States.
Zuniga was named "Queen of Hispanic America 2008" in a recent contest, and was to compete in the Miss International 2009 pageant next year.
Earlier this month, Mexico's top prosecutor, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, said drug gang-related killings have more than doubled since last year, despite President Felipe Calderon's efforts to crack down on the gangs. He said the official death toll for drug violence in the nation is close to five-thousand-400, a 117 percent increase over last year's total.