U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and police in the Arizona city of Tempe have arrested 20 members of a criminal gang linked to Mexico's powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, authorities said.

In addition to the arrests, made within the scope of "Operation Nayarit Stampede," authorities also confiscated $2.4 million in cash, an airplane, 10 vehicles, three tons of marijuana and 30 pounds of methamphetamine.

The gang was led by three individuals identified as Leonel Gálvez Leal, Norberto Meza Montoya and José Alonzo Rodríguez Rosas, the Tempe Police Department said in a media release Friday.

The investigation began six months ago when police in Tempe, a city in southwestern Arizona, learned of the existence of purported stash houses used to store drugs for eventual delivery to customers in that city, as well as in New York, Alabama, California and other states.

The special agent in charge of the DEA field office in Phoenix, Doug Coleman, said the operation dismantled an organization that operated along the U.S.-Mexico border and in the interior of the United States.

"DEA and our partners have taken large quantities of drugs, millions of dollars in drug trafficker assets, and powerful weapons off our streets," Coleman said of the operation, which also received the backing of other DEA field offices and police departments in several other Arizona cities.

The Sinaloa cartel is considered to be Mexico's most powerful criminal organization and is led by Joaquín "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzmán, whose estimated fortune of $1 billion qualified him for a spot on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people.

Guzmán was captured in Guatemala in 1993 and extradited to Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to prison. But the drug lord escaped from a maximum-security prison in 2001 and remains at large. EFE

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