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Gang members with links to Mexican drug cartels arrested in Edmonton

WATCH ABOVE: ALERT has arrested four alleged gang members in Edmonton with dangerous connections. Shallima Maharaj has the story.

EDMONTON — Albertans should be concerned about the arrest in Edmonton of gang members with ties to Mexican drug cartels and a notoriously violent international criminal group, police say.

Four members of La Familia gang, which has been linked to Mexican drug cartels and to Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, face dozens of drug and weapons charges. They were arrested after months of investigation by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team, which believes the group was trying to gain control of drug distribution channels in Alberta.

“Their connection to Mexican cartels and MS-13 creates a linkage to violence that is incomprehensible to most,” Insp. Darcy Strang warned at a news conference Wednesday.

“[La Familia has] tentacles all over the place. They have tentacles in B.C., they have tentacles in Alberta, and even had some…in Saskatchewan. This hurt them a lot. …We interrupted them in a very early stage of their business.”
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La Familia’s Alberta president, Jose Antonio Monterrey, was arrested Dec. 11 while trying to board a flight at the Edmonton International Airport. His three alleged associates, arrested in Edmonton, are Peter Alan Griffon, 34, Cody Sterling Tremblett, 28, and Penny Sue Fleming, 34.

On the day of the arrests, search warrants were conducted at three Edmonton homes, and police seized $600,000 worth of drugs, including five kilograms of cocaine, two kilograms of MDMA, Oxycodone pills, and $45,000 in cash.

ALERT also seized body armour, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a number of firearms and weapons, including two .22-caliber rifles — one equipped with a silencer, a .44-caliber Desert Eagle handgun and a sawed-off shotgun.

“This thing weighs around four to five pounds,” Strang said of the handgun. “The size of the round in this will probably blow out a temporary cavity in your body the size of a baseball.

“[These weapons] are not used for bird hunting; they’re definitely used for human hunting.”

In August, ALERT identified the gang “as an emerging threat to the safety of Albertans,” Strang said.

“This was a group that was armed and ready to defend what they had …and ready to take over any group that tried to take them over.”

Darcy Strang, an inspector with ALERT Edmonton, shows off one of two .22 calibre rifles and a silencer that was seized.
Darcy Strang, an inspector with ALERT Edmonton, shows off one of two .22 calibre rifles and a silencer that was seized. Shallima Maharaj, Global News
This is what ALERT seized as a result of their investigation.
This is what ALERT seized as a result of their investigation. Shallima Maharaj, Global News

The group had been “very aggressive” in selling cartel cocaine, expanding to new markets and recruiting members, he added. They supplied drugs to Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Drayton Valley, Lloydminster, and Red Deer.

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Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, is said to have started in Los Angeles before spreading across North and Central America.

La Familia was founded by cartel kingpin Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, who reportedly announced the emergence of the group by rolling five severed heads into a Mexican nightclub. The cartel was the first target of former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s assault on drug trafficking.

READ MORE: Cartel kingpin thrived after Mexican officials declared him dead

The group took its inspiration from an odd source: the book Wild at Heart, by American evangelical author John Eldredge. A Mexican government profile said Moreno “erected himself as the ‘Messiah,’ using the Bible to profess to poor people and obtain their loyalty.”

READ MORE: Honduras gangs declare a truce, seek talks with government

Strang said this is likely not the last Alberta will see of La Familia.

“The possibility of this group, whether it’s these people or somebody in the group starting up again, probably will occur.”

With files from The Associated Press