Authorities from more than a dozen agencies spread out before dawn Wednesday morning, looking for 14 individuals wanted on federal drug charges and 32 people wanted on state charges.

The arrests culminated about a 10-month operation put together by the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration’s Mobile Enforcement Team, and with the Waxahachie and Ennis police departments among the participating agencies.

“They’ve been working the whole county,” Sheriff Ray Stewart said of the operation. “We’re going to make a big impact.”

Wednesday’s arrests don’t mark the end of the initiative, which saw its genesis in spring 2005, when the sheriff’s office and other local agencies began noticing an upturn in crimes such as aggravated assaults, burglaries and thefts.

When it was determined that methamphetamine was a common link between the different offenses, a decision was made to contact the Mobile Enforcement Team for its assistance in addressing the issue.

“We’ll have another phase coming. We’re not going to let it lie, we’re going to keep it going,” Stewart said, noting the county’s open spaces and rural settings have made it popular with the criminal element involved with methamphetamine.

That popularity may be on the wane, however, with sheriff’s Lt. Tommy Hale reporting the number of clandestine meth labs is down as a result of the operation.

“We were able to dismantle some labs through the course of this - and we were also able to identify some major meth traffickers during this operation,” he said. “We are still having some problems with clandestine labs, but nowhere near what we were having a few years ago. Most of the methamphetamine coming into the county now is manufactured in Mexico and smuggled in.”

Since the operation’s official startup in March 2006, more than $425,000 worth of methamphetamine (8 pounds) has been recovered, along with 115 grams of crack cocaine and 86 grams of ecstasy.

The operation also has seen the recovery of 17 firearms and the arrests of about 90 people since the coordinated effort between the different agencies got under way.

“This has been the largest roundup in the history of the sheriff’s office and Ellis County,” Stewart said. “Our efforts to identify and investigate drug trafficking and possession of drugs and to identify those involved in Ellis County will continue.”

DEA special agent James L. Capra said the federal indictments were directed toward the significant violators identified during the operation.

“These are people who typically have a supervisory or head role,” he said. “Those are the people we want to take federal.”

Federal sentencing is different than state - with those convicted and sentenced having to serve out almost all of their sentences, Capra said.

“When they realize that 10 years means serving at least nine years and nine months and that a 15-year sentence doesn’t mean you get out in two, they’re going to be shocked,” Capra said. “We’re looking at the heads of the organization who are part of a major conspiracy. We want to get the bigger fish.”

The federal charges will be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Federal and local law enforcement have come together in an unprecedented way to strategically attack meth problems in Ellis County,” said Richard Roper, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas. “This case is an excellent example of the collaborative efforts of the federal government and local law enforcement to rid the streets of dangerous narcotics and related crimes.”

The Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office will prosecute those with state charges.

“In early 2006, Ellis County Sheriff Ray Stewart, concerned with the growing problem with the use of methamphetamine in Ellis County, requested the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration Mobile Enforcement Unit,” said Joe Grubbs, Ellis County and district attorney. “The past several months of investigation has confirmed the severity of the meth problem in Ellis County.

“The Ellis County Sheriff’s narcotics unit, working in cooperation with the DEA, has filed numerous cases arising out of this investigation,” Grubbs said. “Without the interagency cooperation shown in the operation, the results would clearly not have been as successful. I want to personally thank Sheriff Stewart, the members of this narcotics unit, the Ennis Police Department and the DEA for the cooperative effort resulting in the arrest of numerous drug offenders.”

“The unified efforts we’ve experienced with our state and local counterparts have been phenomenal,” said James L. Capra, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Dallas Division. “It is refreshing to realize that a combined passion for justice can rid a community of its worst blemishes.”

Names of those arrested in the roundup were not immediately available, with authorities citing several arrests still to be made and the pending release of the sealed federal indictments.

The participating agencies included:

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas

Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office

Drug Enforcement Administration

Ellis County Sheriff’s Office

Waxahachie Police Department

Ennis Police Department

Dallas Mobile Enforcement Team

U.S. Marshal’s Service

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Dallas Police Department

DeSoto Police Department

Grand Prairie Police Department

La Mesa Police Department

Dallas County Sheriff’s Office

Navarro County and District Attorney’s Office

City of Coppell Police Department

Texas Department of Public Safety

Red Oak ISD Police Department

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com