PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Two men linked by authorities to a Mexican drug cartel and charged in one of the state’s largest-ever drug busts were ordered held Friday pending a bail hearing.

Armando Saucedo, of Hacienda Heights, Calif., and Andrew Rios, of Downey, Calif., were detained in the nearly $8 million bust after a federal magistrate judge entered not guilty pleas for them.

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Friday’s hearing revealed that Saucedo, 30, and Rios, 39, are being kept in segregation in a Rhode Island prison facility because of safety concerns.

Authorities haven’t specified the Mexican drug cartel to which they say the men are linked.

Also Friday, a court filing reviewed by The Associated Press showed a third man charged in the bust, Adilson Antonio Reyes, of South Ogden, Utah, admitted when he was arrested in January that he drove large shipments of cocaine from California to Rhode Island. Reyes, 29, was ordered held on Thursday, and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

The men were arrested in January after a months-long investigation led by state police into shipments of drugs into Rhode Island. The operation relied on a tractor-trailer and a tow truck to transport large amounts of cocaine to a storage facility, from which it was then distributed throughout New England, state police have said.

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Police seized 65 kilograms of cocaine, worth $6.6 million. They also seized $1.25 million in cash that authorities say the men were going to smuggle to Mexico to support the cartel.

Reyes and Saucedo came under police scrutiny in late 2010. It’s unclear whether Rios, who was arrested at the storage facility, initially was a target of the investigation.

Attorney Kevin Salvaggio, representing Rios, said he was disappointed that his client has languished in prison without a bail hearing since his arrest. Rios and the others initially were charged in Rhode Island state court, but federal charges were brought against them this week.

A lawyer for Saucedo, Artin Coloian, declined to comment after Friday’s court hearing. A lawyer for Reyes, Steven D. DiLibero, declined to comment on the charges against his client.

Saucedo, Rios and Reyes are charged in a criminal complaint with conspiring to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.

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