Members of the Los Zetas Cartel managed to establish a series of large scale marijuana plantations in east Texas. Authorities have been able to locate 15 marijuana plantations and seize 77,000 plants with an estimated worth of more than $101 million.
The marijuana growing operation has been tied to the Los Zetas drug cartel, information released by the Smith County Sheriff’s Office revealed. The efforts to take down the growing operation began on July 28, 2015 under Operation Joint Venture when authorities found three growing operations and seized 22,000 plants. The operation was carried out by Smith County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
As part of the investigation, authorities were able to identify Eduardo Ramirez Pineda as the leader of the Los Zetas marijuana growing operation and Benito Ramirez as his right hand man. Authorities have obtained an arrest warrant for him and 11 other members of the Los Zetas group for their alleged role in the operation; most of the members have been identified as Mexican nationals.
Authorities were able to arrest three of the wanted men this week and continue to search for the others. During the arrest, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained several other individuals on apparent immigration violations.
Los Zetas have a history of establishing marijuana growing operations in Texas. In April 2015, Breitbart Texas reported on a $2 million Los Zetas marijuana operation in Laredo, Texas. At the time, Webb County Martin Cuellar told a local news outlet that the operation was not tied to Los Zetas; a claim that was since dis-proven.
In August 2014, two illegal aliens were arrested by federal authorities after they set up a marijuana growing operation linked to the Gulf Cartel in Willacy County, Breitbart Texas reported at the time. The seizure came by chance when U.S. Border Patrol agents were chasing a group of 14 illegal immigrants through the Texas brush and encountered the growing operation. By September 2015, 22-year-old Miguel Echevarria Guisar and his father, 51-year-old Miguel Echevarria Zuniga, were both sentenced to prison for their role in the operation. The son was sentenced to three years in prison while his father was sentenced to three and a half years. Both men face deportation after their terms are served.
Ildefonso Ortiz is an award winning journalist with Breitbart Texas. He co-founded the Cartel Chronicles project with Brandon Darby and Stephen K. Bannon. You can follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.