Several men working as lookouts for a Mexican drug cartel in a known smuggling area have been arrested after a months-long investigation in Pinal County.
The men worked on hilltops and mountains for several days and would alert guides who were smuggling drugs and illegal immigrants about the presence of law enforcement in the area, Tim Gaffney, a Pinal County Sheriff's Office spokesman said in a news release.
The spotters used cell phones and digitally encrypted radios to communicate with the guides, the release said.
The joint-investigation between the sheriff's office and U.S. Border Patrol, was launched on Feb. 20, when a deputy conducting a traffic stop in a rural area in Eloy arrested a man who said he was paid $4,000 to pick up a van and drop off supplies to the spotters, the release said.
During the stop the driver, Ramon Garcia, 22, told the deputy the spotters were watching him and told him to run but he didn't, the release said.
The deputy found 600 pounds of food, two spare tires, and a dozen gas cans in the van.
Following the stop, the sheriff's office, Border Patrol and Pinal County Attorney's Office joined together to start a "scout interdiction" detail.
The first scout was arrested in a Pinal County hilltop late February by Border Patrol.
During a second detail on March 7, a Border Patrol Blackhawk filled with BORTAC members landed in an area used by the scouts and three men ran from the hilltop and tried to hide in caves or behind rock piles, the release said.
Jesus Nunez-Rios, 27, Jose Aispuro, 23, and Jose Gambino-Ruiz, 25, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to smuggle marijuana and aiding in a criminal syndicate and were booked into the Pinal County Jail.
During a similar detail on March 10, authorities arrested Sergio Ramirez-Ojeda, 32 and Francisco Noriega-Nunez, 30.
Shortly after, two other scouts, Jesus DeLaRocha, 25, and Miguel Ochoa-St. Cairos, 30 were arrested.
The four men were booked into the Pinal County Jail on suspicion of conspiracy to smuggle marijuana and aiding in a criminal syndicate.
Most of the men admitted to authorities that they had been in the hilltops for several days and were being paid for each group that passed through the area safely.