Federal agents arrested 134 people, seized 47 homes and businesses and confiscated large quantities of cash, cocaine and heroin today in a major crackdown on drug trafficking.
The arrests and unusually sweeping property seizures, including a candy store, ended a two-year undercover investigation of several Mexican families described by prosecutors as kingpins in six smuggling rings. Investigators alleged that the families have brought millions of dollars' worth of heroin, cocaine and marijuana into the country from Mexico.
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Anton R. Valukas said the smuggling "is controlled by a family based in Durango, Mexico, headed by Jaime Herrera." The drugs come "through the family organization to Chicago, via El Paso and other cities," Valukas said.
Most of the arrests were made in Chicago, but some 30 suspects were apprehended in northern Indiana. Other arrests were made and suspects were being sought in California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New York, Puerto Rico and Texas, authorities said.
About 600 agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Chicago police department and other local police agencies carried out the sweeps.
Scores of autos, 10 pounds of heroin, a kilo of cocaine and $197,000 in cash was seized, Valukas said. In addition, raiding parties discovered two caches of weapons and drug paraphernalia. Valukas said so much was seized that it would take at least one more day to assess its value.
Among the buildings seized here were two gasoline service stations, five bars, two restaurants, two jewelry stores, a flower shop and two mobile homes. The businesses now owned by the government include Mike's Candies and Grocery Store, Manati's Flower Shop, La Roca Bar and Rudy's Standard Service, court papers said. The seizures were made under new provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act empowering agents to take real estate believed used in major drug trafficking.
Asked if he would be collecting rents from a northwest side apartment house the government now controls, Valukas smiled and said, "We'll be good landlords."
The Justice Department probe involved the U.S. attorney's office for northern Illinois, one of the nation's busiest posts, and the U.S. attorney's office for northern Indiana. The Indiana probe was code-named "Operation Fowl-Play," because it focused on a reputed den for cockfighting, gambling and drug dealing known as "The Farm" and owned by an accused drug distributor, Jesus Zambrana Sr.