DEA hails meth bust as major blow against Mexican cartel in Utah
Task force swarms SLC parking lot with deal in progress; three men are arrested, one is at large.
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The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is characterizing a large methamphetamine bust in Salt Lake City as the latest blow to the operations of Mexico's feared Sinaloa Cartel in Utah.

About 20 members of the DEA's Metro Narcotics Task Force descended on two vehicles making an exchange of the illicit product in a Lowe's parking lot at 1300 South 300 West about 3 p.m. Monday. Three male suspects were arrested with a fourth male suspect was still at large Tuesday.

DEA spokeswoman Susan Thomas said the 41 pounds of methamphetamine seized marked the latest bust to target Sinaloa's operations connected to Utah. In all, more than 300 pounds of the drug have been seized and more than 30 arrests have been made.

"This is the latest in a yearlong case we've been working, targeting the Sinaloa Cartel through its distribution cells in California and Utah," Thomas said. "We've had some massive meth seizures, but it speaks to the challenge we face: You take one down and another just pops up."

Nonetheless, DEA is determined to stem the flow of the drug into Utah. "Our message to the cartel," Thomas said, "is that we're going to keep hammering you until it becomes so unpleasant to do business here that you go somewhere else."

DEA task force members, which include local law enforcement officers, closed in when the two suspect vehicles and their occupants made contact Monday afternoon. Occupants of the first vehicle surrendered without incident, but the suspect in the second vehicle — a black Mercedes Benz — attempted to flee.

Two task force vehicles blocked the Benz, and when the suspect hurdled the hood of one of the DEA units, officers quickly tackled and subdued him.

Thomas said investigators also learned something new when they inspected the drugs subsequently seized. In addition to the expected "bricks" of methamphetamine, they also found the drug had been fashioned into flat panels that had been sewn into brief cases.

"That gives us an idea of how they are smuggling meth across the border," Thomas said, noting that the panels also could easily be hidden throughout a vehicle in head liners, seats and trim.

The suspects arrested were unarmed, a relief to law officers, given Sinaloa's violent reputation for mass executions, including beheadings, in its ongoing battle with the Zetas Cartel in Mexico.

Given the ongoing nature and sensitivity of the investigation, the names of those arrested were not immediately released.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims