When law enforcement take drugs off of the streets in American towns and cities, their success may be measured in lives saved. With more than 100 Americans deaths occurring every day as a result of the country’s devastating opioid epidemic, every gram of heroin seized, every laundered dollar interdicted, and every Mexican cartel henchman arrested saves countless American lives.
Federal prosecutors in San Diego announced Thursday that they have indicted 75 people nationwide in a massive drug bust and money laundering sting, taking guns, drugs and cash off of the streets after concluding a multi-year operation that will save an untold number of lives. Members of the FBI’s Cross Border Violence Task Force conducting a three-year probe confiscated $6 million in cash, 200,000 pounds of methamphetamine, 138 pounds of heroin, 22 pounds of fentanyl, 200 pounds of cocaine, 554 pounds of marijuana, and 20 firearms.
Show me the money
Representing the Southern District of California with years of experience pursuing international drug cartels, U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman will prosecute many of the indicted suspects. At a press conference in downtown San Diego, Braverman described how agents let the drug money lead them to the drugs to slow the tide of deadly substances destined for Americans towns and cities:
By following the money, we have discovered large quantities of fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine that are no longer destined for the streets of America. That’s a one-two punch that takes these organizations completely out of the ring and makes our communities safer.
The defendants were responsible for laundering tens of millions of dollars on behalf of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, the prosecuting attorney revealed. Once led by the infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa Cartel has been called one of the most dangerous criminal enterprises in the Western Hemisphere, and its members are known for waging bloody drug wars, beheading their enemies and bribing Mexican authorities to look the other way.
The investigation centered on the border city of San Diego, where 40 of the indictments were issued by a grand jury. Twenty-one individuals named in a series of four indictments are already in custody, while another 20 remain at large as fugitives of Justice.
In addition, the San Diego operation netted 35 additional indictments in federal courts across the country, including in Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas and Washington. All but ten of these suspects were in custody as of Thursday morning.
Authorities allege that “money movers” were used to collect and transfer huge amounts of cash around the country. The suspects hid money in hidden compartments of vehicles, duffel bags, luggage and even shoe boxes.
Undercover agents watched as the movers picked up bags of cash in parking lots, hotels and restaurants in cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Dayton, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky. The proceeds of these operations were said to be destined for Mexico.
Using “funnel accounts” in banks across the country, suspects deposited cash in amounts smaller than $10,000 to avoid detection from federal regulators. The money would subsequently be transferred to shell companies in Mexico where the Sinaloa gang could collect on their drug operations in America.
Thanks to the efforts of dozens of federal agents, the Mexican cartel has been dealt a serious blow to their international operations. Braverman explained:
We have siphoned the cash and life out of a San Diego-based international money laundering organization with ties to the Sinaloa cartel.
Thanks to the money laundering sting, dangerous drugs are now off of the streets for good. The FBI office in San Diego quantified their bust in a Twitter post on Thursday, providing pictures of the illegal substances and weapons confiscated in the sting:
Law enforcement seized more than $6 million dollars, 95 kilograms of meth, 63 kg of heroin, 10 kg of #fentanyl, 92 kg of cocaine, 252 kg of marijuana, and 20 #firearms, including #semiautomatic #assaultrifles and #handguns. https://t.co/sIQKIwqh0E #FBI pic.twitter.com/nwGpFhMHWC
— FBI San Diego (@FBISanDiego) March 8, 2018
The seizure of 22 pounds of fentanyl is particularly noteworthy. Mexican cartels began trafficking the highly toxic synthetic opioid in recent years in mixing it with heroin to shore up their profits.
However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse credits the sharp increase in drug overdoses with the illicit use of fentanyl. While there was an unacceptable 64,000 overdose deaths estimate in the U.S. in 2016, 20,000 of these were reported to be from fentanyl and fentanyl analogs manufactured by Mexican chemists.
New War on Drugs
U.S. President Donald Trump has prioritized the war against Mexican cartels since assuming office. Trump said that he offered Mexican President Enrique Pe a Nieto “help on knocking out the drug cartels” less than a month after his inauguration.
“Don’t forget these cartels are operating in our country and they’re poisoning the youth of our country,” the president said in a February 2017 interview on Fox News. “And, by the way, countries all over the world, just so you understand – this is a cartel all over the world, the cartels. But I certainly would help him if he needed help.”
Without an invitation from Mexican authorities, federal law enforcement officials are reduced to fighting the cartels within America’s borders. This week’s indictments represent a major blow against a criminal enterprise that has operating with impunity inside the U.S. for far too long.