‘Spiderweb’ nets alleged drug dealers, award

Less than a year ago, Chester County authorities announced that a 65-year-old Mexican native running a landscaping business from his rented home in East Marlborough Township was actually operating a major cocaine cartel – despite having lost a son to drug-trafficking.

Chester County Detective Sergeant Robert J. Dougherty (from left), Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, and Jeremiah A. Daley, executive director of Philadelphia-Camden HIDTA display Chester County's award.

Chester County Detective Sergeant Robert J. Dougherty (from left), Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, and Jeremiah A. Daley, executive director of Philadelphia-Camden HIDTA display Chester County's award.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Strike Force received the award for outstanding national drug investigation at the annual HIDTA Awards Ceremony in Washington, DC.  The award was based on the county’s work on Operation Telaraña (or Spiderweb).

The investigation, begun nearly two years ago and publicized on May 28, represented the largest drug prosecution in county history, said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. He said the “family business” operated by Salvador Lopez Lemus distributed more than $100 million worth of cocaine over two decades. The arrests of 48 of its members dismantled a major Mexican drug trafficking-organization operating in Southern Chester County, Hogan said.

“I have always said that Chester County law enforcement is among the finest in the nation,” said Hogan.  “It is gratifying to see our law enforcement colleagues agree.  This is a proud moment for Chester County.”

Hogan said the Lemus organization had direct ties to one of the major Mexican drug cartels and had drug connections throughout the United States.  It also enjoyed a reputation in the drug world as “untouchable.”

During Operation Telaraña, the Chester County HIDTA Strike Force worked with cooperators, did intensive surveillance, and eventually engaged in a court-authorized wiretap of cellular phones used by the Lemus operatives.  Hogan said the investigation was possible only because so many agencies assisted.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy administers the HIDTA program.  Its purpose is to coordinate and assist local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to combat high level drug trafficking.  The Chester County HIDTA Strike Force, an investigative arm of the District Attorney’s Office headed by the county detectives, is part of the Philadelphia-Camden area region, one of 28 HIDTA regions in the country, Hogan said.

Jeremiah Daley, executive director of the Philadelphia-Camden HIDTA area, called the coordinated effort among the myriad agencies “an excellent example of how law enforcement collaboration can yield major outcomes benefiting public safety in Chester County and other parts of the nation.”

Daley said not only did a well-entrenched cocaine trafficking organization get dismantled locally, but the investigation also disrupted a network that operated in four other states and reached into a Mexican drug cartel.

“The tenaciousness of the investigators from a dozen agencies, led by the Chester County DA's Office, is most deserving of this national recognition, and is a great source of pride to the Philadelphia-Camden HIDTA,” Daly said.

In addition to the Chester County Detectives, the law enforcement organizations involved in Operation Telaraña included the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, the Pennsylvania National Guard, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the Berks County District Attorney’s Office, and the police departments of Oxford, Kennett Square, Coatesville and West Chester, as well as the full-time participation of a HIDTA Investigative Support Center analyst.

Hogan said many of those agencies joined him at the National HIDTA Awards Ceremony to accept the honor for Operation Telaraña.

“No single agency could have run this operation successfully, from gathering the initial leads all the way through the final arrests,” said Hogan.  “But working together, we were an unstoppable force, destroying a long-standing and sophisticated drug operation.”


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