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Probe reveals inner workings of ring shipping drugs from Mexico to D.C. area

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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 10:02 PM

Virginia State Police Trooper Frank Figgers pulled over a Chevrolet Silverado cruising on Interstate 81 in Troutville. One of the men inside took off running. The reason soon became clear: A bicycle inner tube hidden inside the spare tire held seven kilograms of cocaine worth more than $200,000.

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The traffic stop in May was a key break in a months-long investigation into a ring shuttling cocaine from Mexico to the D.C. suburbs. The drugs were sold around the region, in Manassas, Alexandria, Loudoun County and Prince George's County.

"These guys were high-level for Northern Virginia," said Robert Brisolari, assistant special agent in charge with the Drug Enforcement Administration. "They were dealing with a source of supply in Texas that was one step removed from the Mexican cartels. They were a significant supplier."

The crackdown was part of Project Deliverance, a nationwide probe targeting the flow of drugs from Mexico. The project resulted in the seizure of $154 million in cash, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,400 pounds of heroin, as well as other drugs, weapons and vehicles.

On Thursday, a federal jury convicted two men in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on a drug conspiracy charge. A dozen others have pleaded guilty.

Their case, which included testimony from those who transported, prepared and sold the cocaine, offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of traffickers, and the agents and officers who hunt them. It also shows how the Mexican drug wars are having an impact on local communities.

The conspirators used a Fairfax County-based business, J.D. Granite Countertops in Chantilly, as a stash house. They stored and packaged drugs in the shop and used the business to funnel cash. They spoke in an often awkward code during phone calls, using home improvement terms instead of drug lingo to conceal their activity from police.

The defendants referred to the cocaine as kitchens, blond girls or cars. For the really good stuff, they said "Black Galaxy," which is a type of granite. Drug proceeds were "tickets" or "papers." Instead of saying "dollars" when quoting prices, they talked about feet or yards.

The traffickers broke the cocaine shipments down and sold them to lower-level dealers. Ultimately, the drugs ended up in local neighborhoods. One time, agents saw a dealer sell to a young man riding a bicycle in a Herndon parking lot. Another dealer admitted he sold $2,000 worth of the cocaine at a Woodbridge McDonald's and also made sales at local nightclubs.

"This was a well-organized, well-funded, efficient distribution ring, and they have been put out of business," said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The link to Mexico

The man Virginia prosecutors say was the boss in the United States - and the link to suppliers in Mexico - is awaiting trial in Texas on a capital murder charge, authorities said. Jorge Gutierrez is accused of fatally shooting two men outside the Pink Monkey Cabaret, a Travis County strip club, in May.

The drug ring had ties to the Zetas drug gang in Mexico, one of the conspirators said.

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