MAR 25 – Special Agent in Charge Sherri F. Strange, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Atlanta Field Division and United States Attorney, William Duffey, Northern District of Georgia announced the arrests of 19 defendants and results of “Operation ¿Cuando Tardara?” a two-year long cocaine investigation. The case targeted an organization that extended from Mexico, through the southwest Texas border, to Georgia and smuggled over 200 kilograms of cocaine per month into the suburban areas surrounding Atlanta.
SAC Strange stated that during this morning’s pre-dawn hours, over 140 federal, state and local law enforcement officers, including three SWAT teams, executed 9 search warrants, 13 arrest warrants, and conducted interviews and consent searches at 16 additional locations. The warrants were issued yesterday after a federal grand jury in Atlanta returned indictments on 13 individuals charging them with conspiracy, possession, delivery and storage of cocaine. The investigation has yielded 45 kilograms of cocaine, four pounds of methamphetamine, $1.4 million U.S. Currency, 6 guns, and a bulletproof vest.
According to SAC Strange, today’s round-up unfortunately reminded the community and law enforcement personnel how dangerous drug investigations are. During the operation, SWAT team officers were shot upon at 2000 Asbury Square, Apartment 1101, Dunwoody, GA. Officers returned fire and the man who initiated the gunfire was killed. According to standard procedure, a fair and impartial investigation of the shooting has commenced. That investigation is being conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
The organization used traditional smuggling routes and methods from south Texas to Georgia, favoring vehicles equipped with concealed compartments. The cocaine shipments were initially bound for Atlanta’s affluent suburbs, and subsequently further distributed to other states. They utilized high-end luxury apartments within gated complexes as stash houses from which to distribute cocaine and collect money. The organization primarily sent bulk currency shipments to Mexico via automobile to expatriate their drug proceeds. For example, in October 2003 a highway interdiction stop in Sulphur, LA yielded $1,000,320 U.S. Currency secreted within a hidden compartment of a vehicle. Additionally, traditional “smurfing” techniques were used by sending money via wire remitters to various individuals in Mexico.
“Smurfing” is a term used by law enforcement that labels a technique frequently employed in drug operations. In this instance, it describes multiple low level organization members directed to transmit cash to Mexico in amounts that would not raise suspicion or require notification to government entities. The term is also used when the manufacturers of methamphetamine direct multiple people to obtain precursor chemicals, specifically ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. These individuals often devote their entire day to purchasing cold and decongestant products that contain the required chemicals, visiting as many stores as possible. Once again the idea is to avoid raising any interest or suspicion in the quantities being handled.
According to SAC Strange, “The good people of Atlanta don’t think about the drug law enforcement officers who quietly go to work every day and pursue this violent element of society. Our hard working citizens are unaware that these drug traffickers live amongst us and attempt to undermine the stability, safety, health and future of our community. In 2000, according to ONDCP, the economic costs of illegal drug abuse were $161 billion but who can possibly estimate the real costs to our nation…..the heart and soul of our existence…..our children. We routinely face well armed criminals and put our lives on the line because we are committed to protecting the most valuable resource this country has and our future, our precious children.
This two-year long multi-jurisdictional Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation was coordinated by DEA’s Atlanta office. It could not have been realized without the tireless efforts of the following law enforcement and prosecutor’s offices:
Federal, State and Local Partners
The public is reminded
that an indictment is an accusation of criminal conduct. Defendants
are presumed innocent
and until convicted through due process of law. Questions may be
directed to DEA Group Supervisor Ruth Porter-Whipple at 404-893-7128.