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U.S. authorities bust Mexico drug network in Arizona

TEMPE, Ariz (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have arrested 203 people and smashed a Mexican trafficking ring that funneled millions of dollars in drugs to Arizona for the powerful Sinaloa cartel, officials said on Tuesday.

The multi-agency bust, led by Tempe police and the Drug Enforcement Administration, dismantled a cell running heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to Arizona for the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.

"Operation Crank Call" began when a Tempe police officer arrested two men in a street-level drug deal last year. One of the suspects was later identified as a delivery driver for the Mexican smuggling ring.

It subsequently led to 203 arrests, the seizure of more than 1,200 pounds of narcotics, $7.8 million in drug cash and 44 guns across the Phoenix valley area over a 15-month period, police said.

"Operation Crank Call deals another significant blow to the drug trafficking organizations that continue to try and make the Phoenix metropolitan area a primary hub of drug distribution," said Doug Coleman, the DEA's acting special agent in charge.

"By dismantling this group, DEA and our partners have taken large quantities of drugs, millions of dollars in drug trafficker assets, and powerful weapons off our streets," he added.

The Sinaloa cartel is fighting rival traffickers in Mexico, where surging drug-related violence has killed more than 44,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006 and sent the military to crush the powerful smugglers.

The cartel funnels narcotics through the Mexico border state, sneaking loads through the ports of entry, through clandestine tunnels and over the porous border and through the desert.

Police said those arrested included U.S. and Mexican citizens. Charges brought in the case ranged from simple possession and drug paraphernalia offenses to trafficking charges.

Coleman said the investigation was ongoing and expected further arrests.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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