A Mexican-born U.S. citizen living in rural Pennsylvania for two decades was arrested and accused of smuggling $60 million of cocaine into the U.S. over the last 20 years.
Salvador Lemus lived openly in Chester County as the owner of a landscaping company, but authorities contend it was a ruse to cover his illicit ties to the notorious La Familia cartel in Mexico, according to CBS Philly.
Operation Telarana, Spanish for spiderweb, led to the recent arrests of Lemus and dozens of other violent suspects by a task force including federal, state and local authorities. The takedown was announced on Wednesday, Fox News Latino reports.
The raid also nabbed his son Francisco Lemus, his nephew Mario Hernández-García, his wife, Jovita Lemus and other family members, the Unionville Times reports.
Lemus, 65, and nicknamed El Viejo — the Old One — was tripped up by a wiretap on his cellphone. He has been charged with more than 600 counts, mainly conspiracy, drug possession and dealing.
Criminal informants were instrumental in getting the case off the ground, according to Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan.
"My phone, my phone - nobody can track it," Lemus allegedly said to an associate who suggested recently that he change his number. "I have 20 years with my number," Lemus said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Little did he know that the task force had been listening to allegedly incriminating conversations for more than a year, the Inquirer reports.
Suspects blended in with the local Mexican community in the mushroom-farming region of southern Pennsylvania by holding down day jobs.
Lemus' supposed dealing was well-known to authorities for years, according to Hogan, but authorities were impeded from building a case. Members of the local Mexican community were reluctant to speak against Lemus and his ring because family members living in Mexico could be harmed by Lemus' cartel allies, Hogan said.
Bail was set at $1 million for Lemus.