Raids in Chicago and From New Jersey to San Diego follow last week's murder of a federal agent in Mexico.
In this Intelligence Report: A blunt assessment from the head of the drug enforcement administration in Chicago.
The drug raids started overnight and are still under way in the city, nearly 25 Chicago suburbs, as well as Indiana and Wisconsin. Officers from numerous federal, state and local agencies are making arrests, seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and loads of guns and ammo.
All of the action Thursday is intended to press the two Mexican drug cartels that operate in Chicago following last week's deadly attack on a U.S. agent.
"If you kill one of our people overseas, or anywhere in this country, we're going to make a statement and come after you, and we're gonna hold you accountable," said Jack Riley, Special Agent in Charge for the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
As Riley coordinated the DEA raids from Chicago, teams of officers swept locations in Houston, where one agent was shot and wounded Thursday but is expected to survive. Simultaneous raids took place in Detroit, St. Louis, Miami and elsewhere.
In Chicago, authorities moved in on safe houses and suspects in 24 suburbs spanning the metro map.
"In Chicago what we're seeing is two cartels pretty much coexisting because they are making money," said Riley, "and usually if that occurs it's a business relationship."
Authorities say Heriberto Lazcano runs one of the organization franchised in Chicago, the Zeta cartel. The other is said to be operated by Joaquin Guzman Loera. Nicknamed "el Chapo," he was indicted in Chicago 18 months ago, charged as leader of the Sinaloa cartel. He is a fugitive.
Riley, a career DEA man whose grandfather was a Chicago policeman, says he knows "el Chapo" well after spending the last few years in charge of federal drug investigations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"I've never seen a better organized, more vicious, well funded crime organization in the world," Riley said. "If you took the old Outfit and put it next to Chapo, Guzman's people, it'd be a bloodbath."
In early 2008 Riley says he was quoted in a newspaper article saying he was after "el Chapo."
"The next day on some wiretaps we heard a number of conversations in which he was willing to pay people to cut my head off," said Riley. "I either want him to get locked up and face justice in this country or someone to put a bullet in his head."
After Immigration and Customs agent Jaime Zapata was killed by Zeta cartel members last week in Mexico, Riley says the raids under way Thursday have a special motivation.
"We lost a brother," Riley said. "The same way I felt this summer when Chicago policemen were murdered. It brings home everything."
Despite the surge in Mexican heroin sales on Chicago streets, and the steady market for cocaine, Riley says the cash crop for all the Mexican cartels is still marijuana. That finances all the cartels' criminal rackets, from kidnapping to the smuggling of illegal goods, and now he says drug lords are diversifying--even to the theft of oil and selling it on the black market.