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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release [printer friendly page]
November 30, 2005
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
Number: 202-307-7977

DEA Seizes Heroin-Laced Artwork
Major Trafficking Organization Dismantled from Colombia to the Streets of Boston, MA

Example of artwork in which traffickers concealed heroin
Example of artwork in which traffickers concealed heroin

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Karen P. Tandy today announced the results of DEA-led Operation High Step, a multi-jurisdictional, multi-national investigation targeting a major drug trafficking organization (DTO) that brought heroin from labs in Colombia to the streets of Boston, MA, New York, NY, Chicago, IL, and Orlando FL. This year-long investigation has so far resulted in the arrest of 78 individuals, and the seizure of 78 kilograms of heroin, 39 kilograms of cocaine, $1.4 million USC, and 20 weapons.

Operation High Step revealed a sophisticated method of heroin trafficking into the U.S. - the traffickers secreted concealed bricks of the heroin inside of the porcelain frames of paintings, which drug dealers would then shatter to retrieve the drugs for sale. The drug traffickers in this Operation also smuggled the heroin into the U.S. by concealing shipments in furniture, shoes, and clothing. They sewed heroin into the lining of clothing and the soles of shoes shipped across American borders. This investigation targeted every level of this organization, from the Colombian source of supply to the wholesale distributors and retail dealers.

Shattered painting for heroin retrieval
Shattered painting for heroin retrieval

“Behind the allure of artwork lurked the poison of heroin," said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. “Heroin promises anything but beauty -- forcing addiction, pain, and devastation on its users. ‘Operation High Step’ shows that traffickers are working hard to get their poison onto our streets, but DEA is relentless in keeping it where it belongs: out of the picture.”

Operation High Step resulted in 19 arrests in Colombia, including the leaders of this organization, Alberto Bejarano-Ospina and Gonzalo Salazar-Oliveros, based on indictments issued by the United States Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, Northern District of Illinois, and the District of Massachusetts, charging them with distribution of and conspiracy to distribute heroin. The arrested individuals are now subject to extradition to the United States.

Heroin packages being removed from painting remain
Heroin packages being removed from painting remains

This organization was responsible for smuggling 25 kilograms of heroin into the United States per month. This powerful DTO was consistently obtaining multi-kilogram quantities of heroin from a lab near the Pereira, Colombia area and coordinating the smuggling of heroin to American cities including Boston, New York, Chicago, and Orlando. Following wholesale distribution in those cities, the DTO would electronically transfer the ill-gotten proceeds back to Colombia through wire transfers.

Operation High Step was a joint investigation between DEA and the Colombian National Police.

Operation High Step

Marketing Scheme

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