The FBI and Baltimore police said they broke the back of "a major illegal cocaine cartel" here today with the arrest of what they described as the organization's entire 15-member hierarchy in simultaneous dawn raids on nine houses in the Baltimore area.

Shouldering their way into the homes at 6:30 a.m., scores of heavily armed plainclothes agents and police officers roused the suspects from bed, searched their homes and seized about a dozen firearms, a machete, cash and 3.6 kilograms (about 8 pounds) of suspected cocaine, law enforcement officials said.

Agents and police struggled briefly with one suspect and charged him with assault.

The 15 suspects were brought before U.S. Magistrate Paul M. Rosenberg who ordered some held on bonds up to $100,000 while releasing several on their own recognizance. They were charged with violation of federal drug possession and trafficking conspiracy laws.

The seized drugs amounted to a two- to four-week supply for the operation, authorities said. Each kilo has a wholesale value of about $60,000 and a street value many times that, they said.

"A major illegal cocaine cartel with tentacles in Colombia, South America, Miami, Fla., and New York City has been dealt a severe blow," said Baltimore Police Commissioner Frank J. Battaglia and Baltimore FBI agent-in-charge Dana E. Caro in a joint statement at a press conference this afternoon.

Most of the suspects, including two brothers and two married couples, are Colombian citizens living along the Harford Road-Belair Road corridor in northeast Baltimore and Baltimore County, Caro said.

Sitting at a table laden with shotguns, rifles, pistols, ammunition, rolls of $100 and $50 bills, a machete with a decorative leather sheath and several transparent bags containing the suspected cocaine, Caro named arrested suspect Eduardo Campo, 48, as the alleged ring leader of the Baltimore operation.

"He and his associates operated the largest cocaine distributorship in the Baltimore area," Caro said. Baltimore police narcotics Lt. Joseph Newman estimated the ring operated a $1.8 million-to-$2 million business annually and had been in business two to three years.

This morning's raids "will slow it down for a while," said Battaglia.

Newman said law enforcement authorities first learned of the alleged operation last August from a confidential informant. The FBI and Baltimore police, in a joint effort, then began monitoring the homes of the suspects and making undercover purchases of alleged illicit drugs. Caro said agents spent $14,000 on undercover "buys."

Once the leadership of the operation was identified, the raids were made, Murphy said. "We've gone up as high as we can in Baltimore," he said.

Caro said the Baltimore operation has ties to a major New York-based drug trafficker. Efforts to locate and arrest him as a fugitive have been intensified.