05/18/2012 07:24 pm ET

Santa Clara Heroin Smuggling Ring Busted

Santa Clara might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about hotbeds for international drug trafficking.

But the South Bay county's problems with drug gangs were highlighted earlier this week after law enforcement authorities announced the arrest of 12 people allegedly tied to a heroin smuggling ring.

"Santa Clara County is a major distribution hub for narcotics nationally," Deputy Santa Clara District Attorney Patrick Vaneir told CBS San Francisco. "The cartels have local cells that are based here...[Drugs are refined and repacked here and then] delivered to various locations throughout the United States."

The investigation into the drug ring allegedly headed by Carlos Jose Moreno, termed "Operation Middle Man," started in 2009 after $5 million worth of heroin was seized in East Palo Alto. Over the course of the multi-year undercover operation, undercover agents bought over three pounds of heroin from the gang.

This week's arrests occurred in Hayward, East Palo Alto and Oakland.

Local authorities teamed with with the U.S. Department of Justice and the ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit on the bust. "By combining our resources, authorities and expertise, we've succeeded in dismantling a drug ring suspected of funneling significant quantities of heroin into the Bay Area and onto our streets," said ICE Special Agent Clark Settles in an interview with the Mountain View Voice.

"Transnational gangs have become a top public safety threat as they increasingly traffic guns, drugs and human beings into California," California Attorney General Kamala Harris told PoliticalNews. "I commend the members of the South Bay Metro Task Force and Homeland Security Investigations for their work in identifying and arresting these gang-affiliated suspects."

Operation Middle Men isn't the only large-scale gang bust to occur in the South Bay in recent memory. Late last year, authorities in Gilroy carried out Operation Garlic Press, which netted over 100 arrests over a three-day period.