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18 arrested by FBI, multiple agencies in drug raids across 3 counties including Yakima

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WASHINGTON -- Eighteen people are behind bars after 15 homes were raided in drug busts across Eastern Washington and Idaho on Thursday.

Multiple agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); and U.S. Border Patrol aided the effort initiated by Spokane Regional Safe Streets Task Force.

Three people from Yakima were arrested in the operation during this crackdown on drug trafficking.

Spokane authorities said the investigation took more than two years to break up this drug trafficking ring spanning Washington and Idaho, with 18 of 22 suspects arrested in drug raids in Spokane, Yakima, and Kootenai counties. The suspects face various charges.

More than 20 weapons were recovered by investigators as federal agents and Spokane detectives seized large amounts of cocaine, heroin, and meth.

“Because it’s federal, state, and local we’re able to use all the resources to be able to address the upper level criminal activity of these drug dealers,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Deputy Mark Gregory.

More than $700,00 in cash was also confiscated by authorities.

Among those facing drug charges in federal court are three people from Yakima: 23-year-old Edson Marcos Ramirez; 45-year-old Marcos Ramirez-Mercado; and 51-year-old Mireya Hernandez.

“Thirty years ago, Yakima was one of the smallest cities in the country that had a DEA office and the reason for it is exactly our links to Mexico,” said Captain Jeff Schneider of the Yakima Police Department (YPD).

Local authorities were not part of this drug sting, but they attribute such large-scale success to interagency collaboration, with 54 arrests made in the last two weeks by YPD and multiple federal and state agencies.

RELATED: YPD ramps up violent crime emphasis patrols with help from several agencies

“Sometimes criminal enterprises take on a wide expanse,” said Cpt. Schneider. “There’s a lot of traffic and travel between the Yakima area and the southern border region.”

YPD’s numbers weren’t immediately available but the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) has seen some decrease in drug arrests over recent years, with 80 arrests in 2014; 72 arrests in 2015; and 57 arrests in 2016.

“Heroin and other opiates have become a big part of our culture today, from illicit drug use to controlled substance and prescription drug abuse,” said YCSO Sergeant Mike Russell.

The Yakima Valley is a secondary transportation route for heroin and meth across the country, according to recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) data.

“Yakima Valley, for decades as a matter of fact, has long had that unfavorable distinction of being heavily involved in the drug culture,” said Sgt. Russell.

Now, a local dent in the nation's widespread drug trafficking enterprise.

Spokane authorities are still searching for four suspects in their investigation: 26-year-old Jose Antonio Rojas-Calvillo of Spokane; 31-year-old Victor Alexander Rangel of Spokane; 33-year-old Francisco Martinez-Perez of Spokane Valley; and 48-year-old Giovanni Pena of Spokane Valley.

Arrests were also made in Post Falls, Idaho by the FBI's North Idaho Violent Crimes Task Force.

A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said 96 percent of drug trafficking offenders in the U.S. will be sent to prison for an average sentence of more than 11 years.

Crack cocaine and meth carry the biggest penalties with the longest sentences.

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