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Originally published Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Agents bust meth ring with roots in Mexico

Federal agents and local police say it took more than a year to finally deal a death blow to a close-knit group that the Drug Enforcement...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Federal agents and local police say it took more than a year to finally deal a death blow to a close-knit group that the Drug Enforcement Administration said has smuggled hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine from drug labs in southern Mexico to the streets of Seattle.

"The tentacles had been cut off before, but we had never been able to get to the heart of the organization," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan after federal prosecutors announced sweeping indictments against the core members of what they are calling the Barragan Drug Trafficking Organization — a family-led group the DEA believes smuggled as much as 200 pounds of methamphetamine a month.

Most of it went to Washington, although drugs went to Montana and California as well.

A DEA spokesman said the street price of methamphetamine in Western Washington could go up in the short term, particularly in Pierce, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties, where the ring mostly operated.

So far, 43 people have been arrested this past week, including 23 accused in federal court of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.

The remainder will face charges in state court, law-enforcement officials said Thursday.

According to prosecutors, the drug ring was run by three brothers in the Barragan family and based in Michoacán, Mexico, where the "highly pure" crystal meth was manufactured. They were aided by other family members, including cousins and an uncle, according to federal officials.

"These arrests have removed the largest drug-trafficking organization in south Puget Sound and on the Olympic Peninsula," Sullivan said. "For many years, these defendants spread their highly addictive poison, profiting on the pain of others, shipping their proceeds back to Mexico to fund construction of lavish homes and other luxuries."

An estimated 300 federal, state and local law-enforcement officers were involved in the 14-month investigation that used 17 court-approved wiretaps and culminated this week in the execution of 20 search warrants and the arrests.

Nearly 90 pounds of methamphetamine, 50 firearms and $255,000 in currency were seized, authorities said. Several of those arrested were illegal immigrants, and nine children between the ages of 3 months and 15 years were placed with Child Protective Services.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Arnold R. Moorin said the arrests "resulted in the complete dismantlement of a very large and long-established drug-trafficking organization."

According to records filed in the case, the organization was principally led by three brothers: Ulises Barragan-Mendoza, of Lacey; Herminio Barragan-Mendoza, of Olympia, and an unnamed third brother who resides in Mexico.

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The three were aided by their cousins: Jose Barragan Zepeda and Fernando Barragan Zepeda, of Aberdeen; Epifanio Barragan Estrada, of Woodland; and their uncle, Abraham Barragan Zepeda.

DEA spokesman Steve Hooten said it was the family's practice to "rotate" family members into and out of the organization and move people from one geographical location to another.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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