Michele M. Leonhart
Project Reckoning Press Conference
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Atlanta, Georgia
September 17, 2008 10:00 a.m.

The Acting Administrator often departs from her prepared remarks

We successfully completed a hard-hitting, unprecedented, and massive assault on the powerful and extremely violent Gulf Cartel. To understand the sweeping scope of our Project Reckoning—an investigation years in the making—you have to know that:

  • 5 major drug operations involving 33 individual cases were taken down yesterday and today in a coordinated blitz across this country and 2 others;
  • DEA and our partners arrested 507 individuals during the course of Project Reckoning, including 175 yesterday and today;
  • Law enforcement in 6 foreign countries were involved in building these cases;
  • Hundreds of state, local, and other federal partners across this country participated;
  • Every domestic DEA office had a piece of this project;
  • More than $60 million was seized by DEA and our partners throughout the investigations;
  • More than 16 tons of cocaine, 25 tons of marijuana; and more than 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine were seized throughout.

All to target one very large, potent, and brutally violent drug cartel. The Gulf Cartel controls the drug trade along the Gulf of Mexico and dominates the movement of drugs into this country primarily through Texas. They are known, even among their rivals, for their extreme violence. This reputation is owed to a group of Mexican military deserters known as “Los Zetas” who oversee the Cartel as vicious enforcers who have kidnapped, tortured, and murdered—including beheadings—of law enforcement officials, innocent citizens, informants, and rival drug gangs.

The Gulf Cartel is responsible for much of the escalation of violence along our Southwest Border. Their violence is not contained at the Border, however. It has reached as far as Chicago and Detroit and even into small town America, as evidenced by the horrific murders of five people, including 3 innocent bystanders, in Birmingham, Alabama, in August—attributed to the Cartel.

We also announce today that we’ve indicted the top echelon of the Gulf Cartel: from the 3 kingpins to members of their mid-level management. There’s no doubt these kingpins and commanders will now be feeling intense pressure.

DEA and our partners have now significantly disrupted the cartel’s U.S. infrastructure: from drug and money transporters, to distributors, to cell heads who coordinated the movement and sale of multi-kilogram quantities of drugs into about half the country.

Project Reckoning was truly a global investigation of a cartel that operates worldwide. Our Italian partners are with us today showing how the Gulf Cartel also used the United States as a transshipment point for cocaine to Europe. Project Reckoning owes its great success to Italian law enforcement, our courageous partners in Mexico, the brave men and women of the DEA, U.S. Attorney’s offices in Atlanta and across the country, and too many state, local, and federal partners across this country to name.

Managers of the Gulf Cartel call themselves “The Company.” With this project, we downsized this company’s workforce, seized their assets, destroyed their distribution network, and put them $60 million in the red. ##