Police Break Up Major Meth Ring In Smith County - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3/8/06-Tyler

Police Break Up Major Meth Ring In Smith County

For the past 18 months, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have been investigating the distribution and sale of meth from an organized crime ring.

The agencies called it Operation Icebox, and today the meth ring was busted. Officials say 28-year-old Simon Balderas Jr. is the key figure in this distribution ring. He was one of 16 arrested on federal charges today and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute meth, along with the use of firearms.

Agents of the DEA and ATF along with state and local law enforcement agencies were out early this morning trying to remove drug traffickers from our communities.

"This investigation targeted a major drug supply, distribution and transportation organization operating in the Tyler and Smith County area," said John Ratcliffe, Assistant United States Attorney. Officials say the organization has ties in Louisiana and Florida.

"The trafficking began here in East Texas and the center to the organization has always been here," said Richard Sanders, Resident Agent in Charge for DEA. "As in any organization it branched out to produce its product and get money it return." Along with four pounds of methamphetamine, several cars and assault rifles were seized.

"There were approximately 34 crime guns associated with this violent narcotics trafficking organization," said Michael Golson, Assistant Agent in Charge, ATF. Residents in a North Tyler neighborhood say they often saw a lot of people going in and out of the houses, but didn't think much about it.

"I just thought all of them lived there, and I knew they had these boys," said Jessie Lacy, nearby resident. "They was always shooting going on and that's all I thought was going on." Officials say this operation was a huge success.

"Tonight it's almost dried up because everybody is going to be really uptight tonight about the arrests that were made today and there is more to come," said Sheriff J.B. Smith, Smith County. "This thing has tentacles. It will result in more arrests." Officials say they will continue to search homes throughout Smith County and expect there to be several more arrests. If convicted, those arrested could face anywhere from 40 years to life in federal prison.

Molly Reuter, reporting. mreuter@kltv.com

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