News Release
October 22, 2009
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
(202) 307-7977

DEA Announces Largest Single U.S. Strike Against Mexican Drug Cartels
Project Coronado results in 1,186 arrests and huge drug and money seizures against one of
the world's most violent drug cartels

DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart announces the results of Project Coronado.  Joining her to announce the results are Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson.
DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart announces the results of Project Coronado.  Joining her to announce the results are Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson.

OCT 22 - WASHINGTON – DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart joined Attorney General Eric Holder and other federal officials today to announce the results of "Project Coronado", a 44-month multi-agency law enforcement investigation which targeted the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson also participated in the announcement.

Yesterday and today, 303 individuals in 19 states were arrested in a series of takedowns through coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement. More than 3,000 agents and officers operated across the United States to make the arrests during the two-day takedown. 62 kilograms of cocaine, 729 pounds of methamphetamine, 967 pounds of marijuana, 144 weapons, 109 vehicles, 2 clandestine drug labs were also seized in the past two days.

“Project Coronado, our massive assault on the La Familia Cartel, is part of our continued fight against all of the powerful Mexico-based drug cartels,” said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “This organization, the newest of Mexican cartels, is directly responsible for a vast majority of the methamphetamine pouring into our country across our Southwest Border, and has had a hand in fueling the cycle of violence that is wracking Mexico today.  DEA, along with our U.S. and Mexican partners, are committed to strategically attacking the international and domestic drug trade with every tool at our disposal, and defeating those that thrive on the suffering of others.”

a plastic bin full of drugsThe La Familia cartel is a violent drug trafficking cartel based in the state of Michoacan, in southwestern Mexico. According to court documents, La Familia controls drug manufacturing and distribution in and around Michoacan, including the importation of vast quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States. La Familia is philosophically opposed to the sale of methamphetamine to Mexicans, and instead supports its export to the United States for consumption by Americans. La Familia is a heavily armed cartel that has utilized violence to support its narcotics trafficking business including murders, kidnappings and assaults. According to one indictment unsealed in New York, associates of La Familia based in the United States have allegedly acquired military-grade weapons, including assault weapons and ammunition, and have arranged for them to be smuggled back into Mexico for use by La Familia. Individuals indicted in the cases are charged with a variety of crimes, including: conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana; distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana; conspiracy to import narcotics into the United States; money laundering; and other violations of federal law. Numerous defendants face forfeiture allegations as well.

"This unprecedented, coordinated U.S. law enforcement action - the largest ever undertaken against a Mexican drug cartel - has dealt a significant blow to La Familia’s supply chain of illegal drugs, weapons, and cash flowing between Mexico and the United States,” said Attorney General Holder. “We will not allow these cartels to operate unfettered in our country, and with the increases in cooperation between U.S. and Mexican authorities in recent years, we are taking the fight to our adversaries. We will continue to stand strong with our partners in Mexico as we work to disrupt and dismantle cartel operations on both sides of the border.”

a pile of cash in a truckTo date, Project Coronado has led to the arrest of 1,186 individuals and the seizure of approximately $33 million in U.S. currency, 1,999 kilograms of cocaine, 2,730 pounds of methamphetamine, 29 pounds of heroin, 16,390 pounds of marijuana, 389 weapons, 269 vehicles, and two clandestine drug labs.

“Multi-agency investigations such as Project Coronado are the key to disrupting the operations of complex criminal organizations like La Familia.  Together – with the strong collaboration of our international, federal, state, and local partners – we have dealt a substantial blow to a group that has polluted our neighborhoods with illicit drugs and has terrorized Mexico with unimaginable violence,” said FBI Director Mueller.   

“ATF’s arrest of defendants in Project Coronado highlight the almost inseparable link between illegal trafficking of firearms and narcotics between the U.S. and Mexico,” said ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson. “ATF is on the frontline against violent crime and focuses its investigative tools on criminal groups such as La Familia, which use firearms to further their illegal trade and ruin and endanger countless lives.  It is alleged that La Familia used proceeds from the sale of drugs to purchase or obtain hundreds of firearms that were then moved illicitly to Mexico.”  

tagged weapons and drugsArrests were made or charges were unsealed related to Project Coronado in the following districts: Central District of California, Southern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Georgia, District of Massachusetts, District of Minnesota, Southern District of Mississippi, Eastern District of Missouri, Northern District of Oklahoma, Southern District of New York, Northern District of New York, Middle District of North Carolina, District of South Carolina, Middle District of Tennessee, Eastern District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, and the Western District of Washington. There were also arrests by state authorities in California, Nevada, North Carolina and Georgia. Assistance for Project Coronado was provided by the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Office of International Affairs.  Additionally, local prosecutions will occur throughout the United States.

The investigative efforts in Project Coronado were coordinated by the multi-agency Special Operations Division, comprised of agents and analysts from the DEA, FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshals Service and ATF, as well as attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. More than 300 federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies contributed investigative and prosecutorial resources to Project Coronado through OCDETF.

An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


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