A more than 18-month investigation by the Combined Anti-Drug Task Force that led to the arrests of 18 people last week has dealt a serious blow to the flow of illegal drugs into west Calcasieu Parish. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, July 13, 2013 6:23 PM
The large group of officers that assembled in the wee hours of Monday morning to tackle a drug ring in the Vinton-Starks area, was the largest operation the Combined Anti-Drug Task Force has undertaken, its director said Friday.
It was also the largest operation Gene Pittman has seen in his 16 years working narcotics, he said.
Pittman said the number of 120 to 150 officers that was given at a news conference Thursday was probably a conservative estimate.
Monday’s sting was the culmination of a 1 1/2-year-long investigation, called “Havana Speed,” into a group that authorities said were piping in crystal methamphetamine from super-labs in Mexico.
Eleven search warrants were executed, resulting in 18 arrests.
“You’re talking tactical teams, search teams, all kinds of stuff, just the sheer number of personnel involved,” Pittman said. “But it’s also the scope. The scope of what we did was the largest I’ve been involved in.
“And it had a bigger impact. We took out an element that’s not native to Louisiana and was starting to get a foothold here, and we have wiped that element out now.”
At Thursday’s news conference, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso praised the task force, as well as Pittman and Gary Sonnier, assistant director.
Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier said Mancuso and Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon’s offices came up with the idea for the CAT team in the spring of 2003.
“Over the years that combined anti-drug team, now referred to as the CAT team, has been immensely valuable to this community,” said DeRosier, who was on hand Monday morning during the raid. “It has helped this community control crime, particularly drug-related crime, which is probably 70 percent of all crime that takes place in Calcasieu Parish.”
“Our goal was to coordinate the efforts of all of law enforcement in our respective jurisdictions,” Mancuso said. “All I can say is we’re very pleased with where we’ve gone from nine years ago to today.”
Dixon credited DeRosier’s office as “one of the reasons we’re so successful.”
The initial target of the investigation was Lazario Cribeiro, a Cuban national, thus the name “Havana Speed.”
Cribeiro, 50, came to the U.S. in the 1980 Mariel boatlift and cannot be deported, Pittman said.
One of the suspects in custody, Mario Barrazacorral, is in the United States illegally and others sought are believed to be in the country illegally, Pittman said.
Authorities said Thursday that several suspects had ties to horse racing and that horse steroids were found during the raid. That information has been turned over to the Louisiana Racing Commission, Mancuso said.
Calls made to the Louisiana Racing Commission Friday were not returned.
Barrazacorral owns horses and was housing and training them at a barn owned by the family of fellow suspect Alvin Smith III, Pittman said.
Cribeiro is a horse trainer, and Sergio Castillo also works with horses, Pittman said.
Barrazacorral is being held in Texas, and the rest at the Calcasieu Correctional Center. Of those being held in Calcasieu, Castillo faces the most charges, with 80 counts of attempt and conspiracy.
Pittman said he could not say whether there were ties to a Mexican cartel, but “without a doubt” the drugs were being shipped from Mexico.
“It speaks a lot to the fact of the importance of the task force and how if you pool resources together, how successful you can be,” Pittman said. “We can bring a lot of manpower to bear that the Sheriff’s Office or the city or the other smaller police departments in the area couldn’t do alone.”
Posted By: Fred Gladstone On: 7/14/2013
Title: Vinton Drug Raid
That's a good start but there are all kinds of drug dealing going on in Vinton. One only has to drive around town to see first hand. The Chief of Police got reelected but has yet to crack down on all the crime that is beginning to occur regularly in town.