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"Operation Shadow Box" targets drug and gun traffic

Local, state and federal law enforcement officials Thursday announced the results of a months-long investigation into a large criminal organization.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An El Cajon social club was at the hub of drugs and weapons trafficking involving a Detroit crime syndicate and a Mexican drug cartel, authorities said Thursday.

About 60 people were arrested in connection with a multi-agency probe -- dubbed Operation Shadowbox -- which zeroed in on the business, located at 811 E. Main St., officials said.

The club -- described as an "Iraqi social club" -- had been the subject of numerous complaints of drug sales, gambling, prostitution and other criminal activity, according to El Cajon Police Chief Pat Sprecco. A Drug Enforcement Administration investigation corroborated reports of gambling and prostitution on the premises, authorities said.

During a search of the club Wednesday night, about $16,000 was seized, as was evidence of illegal gambling, Sprecco said. About 100 people were detained and released.

Since January, the DEA and El Cajon police have purchased narcotics, firearms, improvised explosive devices and pharmaceuticals from people at the club, Sprecco said. In April, an undercover operative was shown a hand grenade and was told more were available from a Mexican military source. Suspects in the investigation reportedly arranged narcotics shipments from El Cajon to Detroit.

During the course of the investigation, operatives discovered a suspected association with the Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexico-based drug trafficking organization, and the Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate, which began in Detroit in the early 80s and has been linked numerous crimes, including murder, arson and kidnapping, Sprecco said.

The investigation resulted in the seizure of drugs including more than 13 pounds of methamphetamine, more than four pounds of ecstasy and pharmaceuticals and about 3,500 pounds of marijuana, Sprecco said. Authorities confiscated more than $630,000 and three luxury cars.

Officers seized 34 firearms, including semi-automatic rifles and four explosive devices, which were processed with the help of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's Bomb Squad and the FBI, Sprecco said.

The operation has resulted in about 60 arrests in the past 10 days. Roughly half of the suspects face federal prosecution, including Nofel Noel Suleyman, allegedly one of the ringleaders, according to United States Attorney Laura Duffy.


Suleyman could be charged with unlawful possession of a destructive device -- allegedly a pipe bomb containing nails -- and engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, said Duffy.

The other suspects face state prosecution on charges that include narcotic sales and possession of firearms by convicted felons, Sprecco said.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said her office would be prosecuting 21 cases, several of which involved the alleged trafficking of methamphetamine.

Federal and local law enforcement agencies in San Diego County "coordinate and cooperate together like no other area in the country to take down the bad guys," Dumanis said.

Sprecco said the probe is ongoing and other suspects were still being sought.


"We hope we've made a dent in it, but I'm not naive enough to believe the problem's going to go away," Sprecco said.


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