- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

The leader of a major drug trafficking organization in Mexico has been indicted in a smuggling operation that delivered nearly $50 million in cocaine to buyers in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and California during a 10-month period, Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday.

Reputed Mexican drug lord Ismael Zambada-Garcia, head of the Zambada-Garcia drug organization, was named in a federal grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in the District in January — and unsealed yesterday — on charges of conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine.

Mr. Ashcroft said the indictment named Zambada-Garcia and two of his top lieutenants, Vicente Zambada-Niebla and Javier Torres-Felix, on charges of conspiring to ship more than 6,150 pounds of cocaine to the United States between August 2001 and June last year.

They are accused of using tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border, airplanes, trucks and cars to deliver the drugs. The three men have not been apprehended.

More than 240 people connected to the operation have been arrested as part of a 19-month undercover investigation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration known as Operation Trifecta. The lengthy probe has led to the seizure of more than six tons of cocaine, 25,000 pounds of marijuana and more than $8 million in suspected illicit drug profits.

“Today, the United States and Mexico, working together, have achieved a significant victory against the purveyors of illegal drugs, death and violence,” Mr. Ashcroft said during a Justice Department press conference. “Ismael Zambada-Garcia is alleged to be the head of one of the largest, most powerful and ruthless drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.”

In September, the Zambada-Garcia organization was identified by Mr. Ashcroft as a “Consolidated Priority Organization Target,” a designation that identifies the command and control structures of the most significant drug and money organizations posing a threat to the United States.

Mr. Ashcroft said that with roots in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, the Zambada-Garcia organization exerted considerable influence along a large portion of Mexico’s Pacific coast — receiving multiton quantities of cocaine from Colombian traffickers.

“The success of Operation Trifecta is based on unprecedented cooperation between Mexican law enforcement and U.S. counterparts over an 18-month period. Information sharing reached new levels and is the foundation for a new and more effective working relationship,” said DEA acting Administrator William Simpkins.

Operation Trifecta began after the December 2001 seizure of more than 10 tons of cocaine from the fishing vessel Macel, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. The seizure focused a nationwide effort on the communications of the domestic cells of the Zambada-Garcia organization.

Mr. Simpkins said more than 80 separate investigations across the country were coordinated during the 19-month probe, resulting in the 240 arrests and the seizure of massive amounts of drugs and cash. He said the investigations revealed the vast scope of the Zambada-Garcia organization’s operations, ranging from the organization’s Colombian sources of supply, to Mexican maritime and border smugglers, to domestic distribution cells operating in various cities in the United States.

Arrests were conducted in New York City; Buffalo, N.Y.; Youngstown, Ohio; Phoenix and Nogales, Ariz.; Los Angeles; Salt Lake City; Miami; and Providence, R.I. Those arrested have been indicted or charged by way of complaint with a variety of drug-related offenses. In addition, more than 50 search warrants were executed in conjunction with the arrests.

Mr. Ashcroft said that in addition to Zambada-Garcia, more than 175 defendants were charged by state and federal prosecutors nationwide.


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