By Karen Gullo
WASHINGTON – Federal agents have arrested 261 people and seized cocaine, marijuana and cash in an effort to break up a smuggling operation that transported drugs from Colombia to at least a dozen U.S. cities.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, working with several other law enforcement agencies and authorities in Mexico and Colombia, arrested 76 people today. Previously, 185 had been arrested as part of a crackdown dubbed “Operation Marquis.”
Joseph Keefe, the DEA’s chief of operations, described the bust as one of the largest of its kind in recent memory.
Arrests were conducted simultaneously during the early morning hours in 16 cities, the DEA said. It said that provisional arrest warrants naming 14 suspects in Mexico were being submitted to Mexican authorities.
Keefe said the multi-agency operation has crippled a drug trafficking organization run by the brother of drug lord Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, who died in 1997 after a botched plastic surgery.
Vincente Carrillo-Fuentes, Jose Albino Quintero-Meraz and suspected drug kingpin Alcides Ramon Magana, arrested in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco earlier this month, are alleged to be the central players in the smuggling operation, Keefe said.
“We have disrupted their organization and made it much more difficult for them to function in the United States,” Keefe said.
During the year-and-a-half investigation, agents seized 9,000 kilograms of cocaine, 28,000 pound of marijuana and $12.5 million in cash.
DEA officials said drugs from Columbia were trucked or flown to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, on the U.S. border. In some cases, officials said, the smugglers used special radar-evading planes.
From Nuevo Laredo, they said, the drugs were smuggled into the United States, either in covert compartments on trucks or cars passing through a commercial border crossing in Laredo, Texas, or by individuals coming across the border into Texas.
The drugs were then stored in local warehouses before being distributed to cities across the United States, DEA officials said.
It said the organization shipped the drugs in tractor-trailers, with the narcotics concealed by cover loads of produce, and said cars with concealed compartments also were used.
A Laredo, Texas, warehouse for Corona beer was among those being searched today. Officials said one suspect under arrest had an office at the facility.
The investigation penetrated many local distribution operations. A defendant alleged to be a local distributor in Cleveland was a maintenance worker for the local school district, who allegedly distributed crack and cocaine at recreation centers, officials said.
Arrests were made or planned in Laredo, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Austin, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; New York; Newark, N.J.; Charlotte, N.C.; Cleveland; St. Louis; San Diego; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the DEA, the Justice Department and the Customs Service. Federal agents were assisted by 86 state and local law enforcement agencies. Mexican and Colombian authorities also contributed to the investigation, the DEA said.
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