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DIGGING DEEPER: New cartel expanding power beyond Mexico

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It's no secret that Arizona serves as a major corridor for illegal drugs coming into the United States.

Earlier this year, Project Python resulted in the arrest of more than 600 cartel members in the U.S.. Authorities say the power and influence of one cartel in particular is continuing to spread well beyond our nation's southern border.

"More drugs have come across the Arizona border into the United States than the rest of the american border combined," Tucson Police Captain John Leavitt told the Digging Deeper team.

Now, a new and even more dangerous player has entered the scene. It's called the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG.

"When they come into an area, they really come in really hard and heavy, meaning they will go in and start in on killing spree," said Polo Ruiz, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arizona.

The CJNG is ruthless in their quest for money and power, and they now control 24 of Mexico's 32 states. They also have the firepower to back it up.

"These individuals are individuals that, they call them 'sicarios' - trained assassins," Ruiz said.

Authorities say the CJNG operates illicit narcotics labs hidden deep inside the jungles of Mexico's interior. They utilize raw materials imported from China, through sea-ports controlled by the cartels. Members of the organization manufacture deadly drugs - including methamphetamine and fentanyl bound for the U.S. and beyond.

"They will mass flood these substances into the United States, with that, the violence will bleed over," Ruiz told News 4 Tucson.

For U.S. authorities, including the DEA and Counter Narcotics Alliance, staying one step ahead of the cartel is a top priority.

"We always expect that we could get an overflow of cartel violence from Mexico. I will say that in the past 20 years it has declined and decreased in Arizona, largely due to the cooperative effort of federal, state, and local officers working in drug enforcement." Captain Leavitt added.

Authorities say a decade-long battle between the CJNG and the Sinaloa cartel is escalating, as both groups try to control the plazas, or areas within cities and towns. As long as there's a demand for illegal narcotics, the war will continue.

"Please, if you see something, say something, advise the local authorities, and we're still continuing our battle here." Ruiz concluded.

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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