Smugglers highway: Illicit cargo from Mexico to Chicago

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
A major drug operation in Chicago and the suburbs has been dismantled according to federal authorities after a two year investigation that offers a glimpse of the long-suspected "smugglers highway" between Mexico and Chicago.

Using coded language to foil federal agents for years, more than a dozen mid-level drug wholesalers sold millions of dollars in cocaine, heroin and fentanyl according to newly filed court records.

Among those named in new federal charges is Carlos Fuentes, 40 of west suburban Riverside. Federal investigators say that Fuentes was in the U.S. illegally and told them that he managed to sell large quantities of cocaine and heroin in the Chicago area since 2004....a period of more than 12 years.

During a free-wheeling interview, federal drug agents say Fuentes described how drugs were shipped in refrigerated semi-trailers from Mexico, through Texas and then to Chicago. He said the drugs were hidden in a false wall near the cooling unit of the truck that did not appear on X-ray machines used by authorities at the border.

Investigators have long said that a smugglers highway exists between Mexico and Chicago and that tractor trailers smuggling humans across the border frequently use the same routing and equipment as drug cartels. On July 22nd 10 people died and 29 were hurt when a non-working refrigerator truck filled with undocumented people was found in San Antonio, TX in one of the worst cross-border smuggling disasters in recent history. Authorities say the same cartels that smuggle drugs also smuggle people.

"These are criminal organizations that transport these people into the country. The same organizations, the same illicit pathways that smuggle drugs, smuggle weapons and smuggle people that want to do harm to this country" said ICE acting director Thomas Homan on Thursday.

Among the accused ringleaders of the Chicago drug operation was Aurielo Abrego, 45, of Chicago.

Using secret cameras and cell phone intercepts, investigators say Abrego used coded language to try to conceal a mega-illegal drug business. In the glossary of words that meant something else, federal drug agents say they identified these during hours of recorded conversations:

white dove=cocaine
full order=a kilo of cocaine
2 pesos=$2,000
on point=good quality
$1,920=1920 grams of heroin
lose my horses=lose money
wants to work=obtain drugs
check my watch=contact the supplier

Five people were arrested yesterday in the Chicago drug smuggling case. Five others were already in custody and there are three fugitives. This case spans the city and numerous suburbs...and was coordinated by a drug enforcement task force run by the DEA and FBI.
Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.