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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -- Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies announced Thursday they have dismantled one of the Northwest's largest drug-trafficking operations.
Fifteen suspects from Rexburg, Idaho Falls, St. Anthony and Rigby have been charged by federal grand juries with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
Conspiracy charges are punishable by 10 years to life in prison.
""This operation is probably one of the biggest we've seen,"" Madison County Sheriff Roy Klingler said. ""Our families and a lot of people will be better off from having these drugs out of the way.""
A series of arrests and seizures over the past month in eastern Idaho and the Seattle area yielded 20 kilograms of cocaine, 16 pounds of methamphetamine and about $940,000 in cash, as well as an array of cars, firearms and boats, according to a statement the office of Idaho's U.S. attorney released Thursday.
The entire drug operation is attributed to the Rojas family, an extensive network of relatives thought to have trafficked drugs and money in Idaho, Montana, Washington, California, Illinois and Mexico for at least the past five years.
Thirty-year-old Esteban Rojas-Perez Rojas is believed to have established Rexburg as the family's distribution center for much of the Intermountain West. A mirror operation in Seattle allegedly supplied the Pacific Northwest. Rojas-Perez was among the suspects indicted in Idaho.
Keith Weis, a Drug Enforcement Administration officer, said Rojas-Perez's operation was responsible for importing hundreds of pounds of drugs to eastern Idaho and exporting millions of dollars to Mexico every year.
Bertario Santos-Rojas, a 36-year-old man related to Rojas-Perez, was arrested in Oregon in November 2007 after 31 kilograms of cocaine and more than $11,000 cash were found hidden in a vehicle he was traveling in.
Eastern Idaho's role in the Rojas family investigation started last year when an undercover officer in Madison County bought drugs from a dealer associated with the group, Klingler said.
Other drug-related encounters led area officers to conclude they were dealing with a large organization. Local agencies involved in the bust include the Jefferson County sheriff's office, Blackfoot Police Department, Idaho State Police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Bonneville County sheriff's office, Bingham County sheriff's office, Rexburg Police Department and Fremont County sheriff's office.
Weis said agencies in Montana, Washington and California were involved, as were law-enforcement agencies in Mexico. With the arrests of some of the Rojas family's key players, he said, their trafficking operation has suffered ""top-to-bottom dismantlement.""
""The removal of them will create a void, and obviously, someone will try to step in,"" Weis said.
Fremont County Sheriff Ralph Davis agreed breaking down the Rojas operation won't end drug work in eastern Idaho.
""There's always a relationship between these drug dealers,"" he said. ""The drug trade is always intermingled and interrelated.""
Nonetheless, ""We anticipate this will really put a dent in the drug trafficking in our area,"" Klingler said.