AURORA, Colo. -- After a yearlong investigation, federal agents and local police officers on Thursday dismantled a lucrative drug trafficking operation in Aurora.
Sources have called the takedown a major victory for law enforcement working to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs smuggled into the United States from Mexico.
Cocaine and methamphetamine from south of the border were distributed from El Rancho Market at South Chambers Road and East Mississippi Avenue in Aurora, according to federal prosecutors.
During regular business hours on Thursday, the doors to the market were locked. Evidence of yellow police tape was left behind from earlier in the day.
"I'm surprised," a regular market customer said.
Court documents have named 17 defendants. They are accused of smuggling drugs from Mexico and using two Aurora homes to stash cocaine and meth before bringing the drugs to El Rancho Market for distribution.
"I've been coming here for 13 years," one woman said. "I don't believe that."
Depending on charges, defendants face anywhere from 10 years, 20 years or life in prison, if convicted. Agents say the suspects used secret vehicle compartments to smuggle the drugs from Mexico to Colorado.
Prosecutors are hoping a magistrate will turn over what they call stash homes to the federal government along with $2 million.
Of the 17 people charged, nine were arrested. One was already behind bars and seven are considered fugitives.