It was 3:30 a.m. and cold when the chartered jet touched down at Scottsdale Airport in late November.
On board was a key suspect in an interstate drug smuggling operation sought for months by a team of local, state and federal officers.
The jet, originally slated to land at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, switched at the last moment to the airport south of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, where late-night arrivals are common despite the facility’s officially closed status.
It was a move intended to foil the suspect’s pursuers, officials said.
Even so, a team of 20 law enforcement officers, some from as far as Florida, learned of the switch and were huddled in the darkness when four passengers disembarked.
Dudley Mitchell, 43, of Sarasota, Fla., was arrested Nov. 22 and the almost $500,000 he was carrying confiscated, said Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. Mark Morlock, part of multi-agency task force based in Tucson.
The arrest has since led to the toppling of an international drug syndicate described by Morlock as huge.
"This organization was involved in smuggling quantities of marijuana from Tucson to Florida and New York," he said.
Initially, investigators thought the suspects were shipping 1,200 to 2,000 pounds of marijuana monthly through the mail to 21 homes in Sarasota.
The organization chartered private aircraft, typically jets, for larger shipments.
"What we found out later in the investigation is that there was a whole bunch more getting through," said special agent Steve Lieberman with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a member of the unit that began tracking the Mexican-Jamaican crime ring in July.
Some homes were rented solely to accept packages. Costs were defrayed by profits from selling marijuana in markets where a pound goes for $1,100 to $1,400.
"And you can buy it in Tucson . . . for $300 to $600," Lieberman said.
More arrests soon followed, mainly in Florida.
"We have dismantled the organization as we know it here but we are taking the investigation further to see how far it branches out," Lieberman said.
Scottsdale has no other connection to the case. Police Lt. Steve Gesell, who oversees special investigations, said officers routinely monitor the airport for drug trafficking.
Mitchell is charged with money laundering, conspiracy and more in Arizona, Morlock said.
Another warrant awaits his extradition to his home state, he said.