Cardinals Quickly Drop McKinley After Drug Arrest
Allegedly Head of Trafficking Ring

Compiled From Wire Reports

PHOENIX (June 24) -- Arizona Cardinals backup fullback Dennis McKinley and three other men were arrested as suspects in an investigation into an international drug ring.

Police say McKinley, who had his contract terminated by the Cardinals hours after his arrest, is the ringleader and rented a warehouse where marijuana shipments from Mexico were stored.

McKinley was taken into custody Tuesday morning after members of the Phoenix police department's drug enforcement bureau executed five search warrants throughout the city. Other suspects were arrested in New York, police said.

The four men were accused of buying marijuana that had been smuggled in from Mexico, repackaging it in Phoenix and then transporting it via tractor trailer to major cities in the United States, including New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.

The investigation resulted in 34 indictments and 27 search warrants. Not all of the other suspects have been arrested, authorities said.

"We think we've got the conspiracy taken care of,'' Assistant Attorney General Don Conrad said.

McKinley, who was in jail Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment, has appeared in 58 games for the Cardinals over four seasons. He has primarily played on special teams and as a reserve fullback since the Cardinals drafted him in 1999.

"This is a very serious criminal matter,'' said Michael Bidwell, Cardinals vice president and a former federal prosecutor. "Dennis has engaged in personal conduct that adversely reflects on our organization.''

Authorities say they began investigating the operation after an August 2002 shooting netted $225,000 in cash and injured one of the suspected ringleaders.

The shooting was the result of drug buyers discovering that $250,000 worth of marijuana that they had bought was actually hay disguised as the drug.

"This didn't start as an investigation into McKinley, it started as a drug investigation that led to McKinley,'' Phoenix police spokesman Randy Force said.

Wiretaps and video surveillance of the warehouse were used to track at least three shipments, Conrad said.

The investigation has netted 1,500 pounds of marijuana, two tractor-trailers, nine vehicles, 11 guns and $470,600 in cash.

McKinley was arrested at his Ahwatukee Foothills apartment Tuesday morning.

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