- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

Drug agents yesterday were looking to arrest 171 persons in raids in 17 U.S. cities in an undercover investigation that netted more than 9 tons of cocaine, 27,000 pounds of marijuana and $12.5 million in illicit cash bound for Mexico.
The 18-month probe, dubbed "Operation Marquis," targeted a drug smuggling organization based in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, along with the rings cocaine-trafficking partners in Colombia and major drug retailers and street dealers in a dozen states from Texas to Illinois to New York.
The ring is accused of using tractor-trailers to transport the drugs, hidden in produce, into this country.
Included in the raids was a suspected major marijuana-smuggling operation based in Washingtons Georgetown.
By early evening, 83 persons had been taken into custody by a drug task force composed of agents and prosecutors from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, U.S. Customs Service, Justice Department and 85 state and local police agencies.
Provisional arrest warrants naming 14 members of the Nuevo Laredo operation also were sent to Mexican authorities. Once apprehended in that country, U.S. officials will formally request their extradition.
The Nuevo Laredo organization is believed to be one of the most ruthless drug operations in Mexico. In addition to drug charges, three of the rings suspected key enforcers Hugo Villareal-Solis, Jose "Joey" Abel Rodriguez and Roberto Lopez also are being sought on a San Antonio warrant in three homicides.
"The success of Operation Marquis is an excellent example of what can be done when we work together with our law enforcement counterparts in Mexico," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "The attorney general of Mexico and I have agreed to focus our law enforcement efforts on major traffickers and send a clear message to those criminals on both sides of our border that there will be serious consequences for preying on the citizens of our countries."
DEA Agent Mike Ferguson, who heads the agencys Office of Special Investigations, said Operation Marquis was the continuation of an earlier probe that resulted in the arrest in September 1999 of 185 persons.
That investigation also successfully identified leading drug smugglers in Mexico and Colombia whom Mr. Ferguson described as being "responsible for putting tens of millions of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana on the streets" of several U.S. cities.
Mr. Ferguson described the Nuevo Laredo operation as the "remnants" of a drug ring formerly headed by the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes, known as "Lord of the Skies." Fuentes was considered Mexicos No. 1 drug smuggler until his death in Mexico City in 1997 after plastic surgery in an attempt to alter his appearance.
Fuentes brother, Vincente, along with Jose Albino Quintero-Meraz and Alcides Ramon Magana, were described yesterday as leaders of the Nuevo Laredo operation.
Magana, one of a dozen suspected international drug kingpins identified by the White House earlier this month under the Foreign Drug Kingpin Act, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury in New York on separate charges of conspiring with government officials in Mexico to transport tons of cocaine into the United States.
Mr. Ferguson said transportation and distribution "cells" of the Nuevo Laredo organization were established in cities across the United States, including San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Austin and Laredo, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Chicago; Wichita, Kan.; Little Rock, Ark.; New York; Newark, N.J.; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Cleveland; and Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.
The Georgetown inquiry was being handled yesterday out of the U.S. Attorneys Office in Laredo and no specific information was available. But Mr. Ferguson described pending indictments in that case as "significant" and said "significant" amounts of marijuana had been routed into Georgetown.
Mr. Ferguson also said the Nuevo Laredo organization is believed to have been involved in the shipment of large quantities of cocaine and marijuana through southern Texas, where it was stashed in warehouses before being sent to distribution centers throughout the country.
He said most of the drugs moved in tractor-trailers, with the narcotics concealed by "cover loads" of produce. Other shipments were sent in cars and smaller trucks, with the cash being returned in the same vehicles.
"The investigation began after we sent a lot of people to jail and seized a lot of dope as a result of the earlier probe," Mr. Ferguson said. "We wanted to see who would be moving in to fill those gaps."

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