The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has seized more than $28 million in illicit drug profits, made 230 arrests and confiscated more than 3,300 pounds of cocaine and 37,000 pounds of marijuana in an investigation targeting drug-related proceeds and assets.
DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said yesterday that undercover agents, during an operation dubbed “Money Trail Initiative,” disrupted major drug organizations by identifying and attacking the financial structures critical to supporting the illegal trade. The investigation began last year.
“While money is the main motivation for drug traffickers, it is also their No. 1 vulnerability,” Mrs. Tandy said. “In this initiative, we followed the money trail from several cash seizures in the U.S. around the Western Hemisphere, and it led us to identifying and indicting two drug trafficking brothers, one of whom is on the most wanted drug traffickers list.”
Mrs. Tandy said the initiative was the culmination of three nationally coordinated undercover operations — Choque, Denali and Falling Star — that successfully targeted several drug operations.
The initiative involved DEA agents in 33 U.S. cities from New York to Los Angeles and agents in Ciudad Juarez and Guadalajara, Mexico; Guatemala City; and Bogota, Colombia.
The brothers, Oscar Arturo Arriola-Marquez and Miguel Angel Arriola-Marquez, have since been designated as drug kingpins by President Bush, included in a list of eight named in June. The designation, under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, is aimed at denying them, their businesses and their operatives access to the U.S. financial system and all trade and transactions involving American companies and persons.
The act authorizes the president to take such steps when he determines a foreign narcotics trafficker presents a threat to the security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.
The Arriola-Marquez brothers were targeted during the 30-month “Operation Choque,” which resulted in 95 arrests and the seizure of 3,100 pounds of cocaine, 523 pounds of marijuana, 10 pounds of methamphetamine, 30 weapons, $12 million in currency, $8 million in other assets and 144 vehicles. They were described as the ringleaders of the drug operation, with Mexican money broker Saul Saucedo-Chaidez, also known as “the Engineer.”
They were charged with receiving and moving nearly $42 million a year in drug money between the United States and Mexico. Most of the drugs were moved into the United States in tractor-trailers, offloaded into barns in Colorado and transported to dealers in Chicago and New York, from where they were routed to other cities. The drug profits were returned to Mexico in suitcases, boxes and crates and inside tires.
Miguel Angel Arriola-Marquez and Saucedo-Chaidez were arrested in Mexico and are awaiting extradition to the United States. Oscar Arturo Arriola-Marquez remains a federal fugitive and is thought to be in Mexico.