By Daniel Lovering
NIANTIC, Connecticut (Reuters) - Hundreds of law enforcement agents swept into southeast Connecticut on Wednesday in an operation that saw about 100 people arrested in what authorities described as a massive takedown of heroin and cocaine traffickers.
The arrests swept up suspects in four northeast states and Puerto Rico, culminating a 15-month probe into two smuggling operations that brought in drugs from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
"This is a massive operation that we did today," U.S. Attorney David Fein told a news conference at a National Guard facility in Niantic, not far from the focus of the sweep. "Especially for a city the size of New London, it's a major operation."
New London is a harbor city of about 27,600 people on the coast of Long Island Sound.
More than 700 law enforcement officers made arrests in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. The federal prosecutor's office in Connecticut and a unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led the investigation.
Officials declined on Thursday afternoon to say precisely how many people had been arrested, saying they were still pursuing a few suspects.
Authorities said they seized drugs, weapons, cash and vehicles. Those arrested were transported to U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut. Most face charges that carry mandatory minimum prison terms of five to 10 years.
Investigators seized an unspecified amount of narcotics, some sent in packages from Puerto Rico and some hidden in the bodies of human couriers who swallowed bags of heroin that they brought into the country on commercial flights.
One of the heroin-trafficking suspects, Luis Ariel Capellan Maldonado, operated out of his apartment in New London and regularly procured multi-kilogram quantities of heroin from the Dominican Republic, Fein said.
He said that Maldonado sent thousands of dollars in drug proceeds back to the Dominican Republic and also obtained heroin from other sources in New York and Rhode Island.
Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New England, said the multi-agency investigation was formed to address rising drug-related violence in New London County, some perpetrated by alleged gang members.
"They pretty much made this particular area a gateway for their illegal poison," he said. "The fact is, we've dismantled them. We've taken them down."
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Cynthia Johnston, John Wallace and David Gregorio)