TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pinal County Sheriff's Office deputies with the help of Border Patrol agents arrested eight suspected drug cartel members accused of working as scouts.
Sheriff Paul Babeu said the cartels are using "spotters" camped at the top of mountains and hills in Pinal County to escape law enforcement.
Officials became aware of this practice in February near Eloy, when deputies found a Mexican national here illegally driving a van packed with supplies and 600 pounds of food.
Deputies believe he was going to restock the scouts' supplies.
Officials also learned about the suspected drug cartel scouts hiding in caves near Casa Grande and Picacho Peak.
Officials found multiple cell phones, food, large water jugs, solar panels to recharge batteries, and binoculars at the camp sites.
It is believed phones and encrypted radios were used to guide the smugglers below.
Sheriff Babeu said it was extremely difficult to catch the suspected scouts.
He called it the first-ever prosecution of its kind in the U.S.
He said Americans should be aware and alarmed – especially since officials are catching these suspects so deep into our state, about 100 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border.
"In law enforcement, this is what we call a clue," Babeu said. "The border clearly is not more secure than ever. That clearly on this day, when we have members of a criminal syndicate from a foreign country who believe they can operate so robustly deep into the heart of America is unacceptable."