By Ian Bush and Todd Quinones
WEST CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) — Chester County’s district attorney calls it the biggest drug bust in county history — the result of a take-down of a cartel distributing cocaine throughout the region and across the country.
DA Tom Hogan says the operation, dubbed “Operation Spider Web,” netted $60 million worth of coke with a street value several times greater, from a Mexican drug operation running a 20-year business out of a house in East Marlbourogh Township.
Forty-four people are in custody, including those whom DA Hogan calls the “leaders” of the Lemus family drug trafficking organization. Hogan says the gang was helmed by Salvador Lemus, nicknamed “El Viejo” (“the old one”), whom authorities say led a gang that wouldn’t think twice about killing anyone from those who cooperate with law enforcement, to cops, and the rest of us.
“These are groups that kill cops, kill prosecutors, kill judges and don’t think twice about killing civilians,” Hogan said.
Here in the quaint town of Kennett Square, Leon Spencer serves as borough council president.
The alleged cartel connected drug ring operated throughout southern Chester County for the past 20 years.
“It goes to show how strong the cartel is unfortunately and how they can penetrate any area they desire to penetrate,” Spencer said.
Hogan says distributors in the cocaine trafficking network sought cover in regular day jobs.
“These guys are going to be working in mushroom houses. They are going to be working in blue collar jobs. They are going to be working in auto repair shops. They are going to be working in landscaping jobs during the day,” Hogan said.
Hogan says Lemus stayed under the radar by running a landscaping company out of Maryland. He says Salvador Lemus’ son and nephew served as lieutenants, keeping the drugs moving while the boss wintered in Mexico, sticking close to the powerful “La Familia” cartel.
Starting about a year ago through undercover work, the use of informants and surveillance, investigators were able to build their case which led to Wednesday’s announcement which took some residents by surprise.
“Very safe area. Obviously you have your stories of some activities, but nothing to this scope,” Kennett Square resident Mark Lawler said.
The DA says a dozen more warrants were still out in this crackdown, which he believes will echo down to Mexico with a warning for the cartels that try to fill the Lemus void in Chester County: the law is going to get you, too.
Lemus’s bail has been set at $1 million cash.