- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

Federal agents have dismantled a major drug-trafficking organization whose distribution operations were centered in Atlanta but spread across the nation.

The undercover investigation, known as Operation Omnipresence, resulted in 22 arrests, the seizure of more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine, valued at $15 million, $3 million in U.S. currency and $3 million in assets.

A federal grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Atlanta named the 22 suspects on charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine. They face up to life sentences in prison, if convicted.

Sherri Strange, special agent in charge at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said the investigation exposed the hierarchy of the drug-trafficking organization.

“Like an onion, the multiple layers within were revealed as the case was cut wide open. This multiagency cooperative effort will greatly impact the Atlanta metro area as an organization responsible for moving thousands of kilograms of cocaine through Atlanta is dismantled,” said Miss Strange, who heads the agency’s Atlanta field office.

DEA spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said the investigation discovered that the group centered its distribution network initially in Atlanta and eventually expanded into an organization operating in Georgia, Arizona, California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Florida and Mexico.

He said investigators found that the cocaine was being shipped from Mexico to designated cities using clandestine methods, such as religious statues in New York City. After the organization disposed of the narcotics, millions of dollars in U.S. currency were shipped back to Mexico.

Greg Jones, FBI special agent in charge who heads the bureau’s Atlanta field office, said the investigation “has left Atlanta, its surrounding communities, and beyond, a safer place.”

“Members of this group displayed a complete disregard for the law as well as its officers and agents who enforce it,” he said. “These members further displayed a complete disregard for how this large-scale drug-trafficking activity would affect the lives of other individuals in the community.”

Mr. Courtney said that beginning in August 2004, DEA-Atlanta, Task Force Group 3, initiated the investigation, and that the FBI began a parallel effort, targeting another major drug cell operating in Atlanta.

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