The Project Reckoning arrests came over two days, and authorities confiscated more than 35,000 pounds of cocaine, more than 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine and $60 million in cash, DEA officials said. The street value of the cocaine could be about $320 million, according to prices cited by DEA agents in news reports.
The operation targeted the Gulf cartel, which is based in northeastern Mexico and is one of the two main Mexican organizations shipping cocaine to the United States on behalf of Colombian drug lords.
Details of the raids, arrests and seizures were announced by U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. "It will make a huge dent in the overall drug flow in that it will take out the middle level and we hope the upper level of one of the substantial cartels that are operating in Mexico," said Mukasey.
"There are other cartels that are operating as well but this is one of the major ones and one of the most violent ones," he said at a news conference in Atlanta where guns and packets of seized money were put on display.
Project Reckoning targeted several parts of the Gulf cartel's operations including transportation and cocaine shipments into the South for distribution and street sale. The DEA unveiled an indictment against Heriberto Lazcano and two other Gulf cartel chiefs believed to be living in Mexico for conspiracy to import drugs into the United States.
The cartel, whose original members deserted from the Mexican army, rose to power by acting as a middleman for Colombian cartels seeking to export drugs into the vast U.S. market.
DEA agents also focused on drug trafficking from Mexico through the United States and then to Europe via Rome. Investigators say Europe has become a growth center for cocaine trafficking because of the dollar's decline against the euro.
The arrests included three people in Indianapolis and Carmel, Ind.
DEA agents arrested Juan Carmona and Yoel Herrera Tuesday after raids on homes and businesses, seizing cocaine and cash.
The DEA task force also arrested a suspected marijuana dealer in Indianapolis Tuesday as part of the operation. Diego M. Robles, 24, was in the Marion County Jail on a charge of dealing marijuana. Bond was set at $50,000.
"We successfully completed a hard-hitting, coordinated and massive assault on the powerful and extremely violent Gulf Cartel," DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in a statement. "We have arrested U.S. cell heads, stripped the cartel of $60 million in cash, imprisoned their brutal assassins and significantly disrupted their U.S. infrastructure."
Including the operations announced Wednesday, a long-term investigation of one of Mexico's largest drug trafficking cartels and its U.S. and international distribution networks has resulted in the arrest of more than 500 individuals in the United States, Mexico and Italy to date, according to a statement by U.S. officials.
"Project Reckoning" has resulted in the arrest of 507 individuals and the seizure of approximately $60.1 million in U.S. currency, 16,711 kilograms of cocaine, 1,039 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,258 pounds of marijuana, 176 vehicles, and 167 weapons. Project Reckoning, a 15-month investigation, combined into one centrally coordinated effort several multi-district enforcement operations that all involved individuals with close ties to the Gulf Cartel.
"This operation exemplifies the European vision of the international fight against drug trafficking," said Dr. Nicola Gratteri, Italian Public Prosecutor for the Anti-mafia District Attorney's Office of Reggio Calabria, Italy.
The Justice Department announced that the cases are being handled by attorneys in the Northern District of Georgia; Southern District of Texas; Northern District of Texas; Western District of Texas; District of New Jersey; Eastern District of Louisiana; District of New Mexico; Southern District of Florida; Eastern District of North Carolina; Southern District of New York; and the Criminal Division's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Office of International Affairs.
In addition, they said, local prosecutions in this case will occur in the states of California, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.
Federal law enforcement sources in Chicago tell the ABC7 I-Team that there will be a second phase of the massive drug sweep. The follow-up operation, will target suspects currently under investigation in Chicago and other parts of northern Illinois, sources said.