The Drug Enforcement Administration has disrupted a major Colombian drug cartel with eight arrests in that country and three in the United States as part of an undercover investigation known as “Operation Streamline.”
Nearly 2 pounds of heroin were seized during the Thursday arrests.
DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said the investigation, which began in Florida in early 2002, targeted the Orlando Ospina trafficking organization in Colombia that smuggled nearly 1,000 pounds of high-grade heroin a year into Miami for distribution to buyers in New York City, Philadelphia and Newark, N.J.
Those arrested in Colombia will be extradited to face U.S. prosecution, Mrs. Tandy said.
After the investigation began in Miami, it later expanded to Charlotte, N.C., Newark, New York City, and Philadelphia, and later into Argentina, Colombia and Nicaragua.
At least 17 persons already have been taken into custody and more than 100 pounds of heroin seized — with an estimated street value of $6 million.
The original targets, Orlando and Carlos Ospina, were arrested by DEA agents in Florida in May.
“Drug trafficking reaches across international boundaries and jurisdictions. Law enforcement must do the same. The success of this multinational, multijurisdictional investigation exemplifies the cooperation between law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and the governments of Colombia and Argentina,” Mrs. Tandy said.
The drug traffickers, she said, used both traditional and nontraditional smuggling routes and methods, including hiding heroin in drinking straws and placing them in boxes of seafood, and using internal body couriers to transport drugs from Cali and Bogota, Colombia, and Buenos Aires to major East Coast cities.
Mrs. Tandy said the traffickers also used various methods to transport their illicit drug profits from the United States back to Colombia, including the use of body couriers who swallowed $100 bills rolled into cylinders and pressed, and a check-cashing business in Cali, Colombia, that could launder $25,000 a day in proceeds.
Additionally, she said, the organization used Western Union wire transfers to send drug proceeds in $1,000 increments from the United States to Colombia.
The two-year Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) operation was coordinated by DEA’s special-operations division, a joint law enforcement program comprising agents and analysts from the DEA, FBI, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as lawyers from the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Also involved in the investigation were the Colombian National Police and the Gendarmeria Nacional Police in Argentina.
Colombia remains the world’s largest producer of cocaine and a major supplier of heroin to the United States.