- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

A nationwide drug smuggling operation that used FedEx Corp. employees, airplanes, trucks and offices to transport cross country 121 tons of marijuana valued at $140 million was shut down Thursday by federal drug agents.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, following a 20-month investigation known as "Operation Green Air," arrested 101 persons in seven states with additional arrests expected. The DEA also seized more than $4 million in cash and property, including 18 weapons, and confiscated more than 17 tons of marijuana.

Many of those arrested and others being sought are members of the notorious Arellano-Felix drug smuggling cartel based in Tijuana, Mexico, considered the most powerful, violent and aggressive drug-trafficking organization in the world. Others have been described as drug traffickers in Jamaica. The arrests took place in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida.

Those arrested were charged with the import and distribution of marijuana.

"Today we have taken another major step in our fight against drug trafficking," Attorney General Janet Reno said in a written statement. "Law enforcement's overnight delivery to the American people is safer streets for our children."

Rod Benson, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA's special operations division in Lorton, Va., said the drug ring utilized employees of FedEx, a private parcel service, and that 22 FedEx employees were among those arrested, including a security official in New York, customer service representatives and a dozen drivers.

Mr. Benson said the marijuana was shipped by members and associates of the Arellano-Felix cartel to Jamaican traffickers in Southern California, who then routed it via FedEx to associates throughout the United States, where it was then sold on the street in Boston; Hartford, Conn.; New York City; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Pittsburgh; Cleveland; St. Louis; Memphis, Tenn.; Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Francisco; San Diego and Los Angeles.

The Arellano-Felix family smuggles marijuana and cocaine into the United States and distributes $1 million weekly in bribes to Mexican authorities. The organization consists of seven brothers and four sisters.

Since 1998, Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix, 34, who heads the family, has been on the FBI's Ten Most-Wanted list. He is wanted in connection with the importation of thousands of pounds of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.

Mr. Benson said that during the investigation, agents observed that a single FedEx airplane carried as much as 5,000 pounds of marijuana packed into standard shipping boxes. He said FedEx drivers were paid as much as $2,000 a week to help deliver the marijuana, which had been flown from Los Angeles International Airport to cities on the East Coast, including New York; Newark, N.J.; Atlanta; Memphis, Tenn.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

DEA agents who arrested one FedEx driver at his New Jersey home found $19,000 in cash in a shoe box, Mr. Benson said. The FedEx Corp. security agent who was described as a key player in the smuggling operation was charged with assisting the drug ring. He was paid at least $30,000, Mr. Benson said.

FedEx security officials assisted DEA agents in the investigation, which began in July 1998 when an employee discovered a package of marijuana that was being shipped from Los Angeles. That employee, according to Robert Bryden, FedEx vice president for security and a retired DEA official, alerted the DEA.

"DEA, through some means of their own, quickly decided this was an important investigation" and asked the company not to take action against employees suspected of assisting drug traffickers, Mr. Bryden said. "Had we done that, our exposure would have been limited early on to a very few number of employees."

Instead, Mr. Benson said, the investigation continued undercover and enabled authorities to identify as many as 25 FedEx employees as suspects. The DEA said FedEx's security force, which uses drug-sniffing dogs, intercepted marijuana deliveries during the investigation.

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