The FBI arrested seven reputed Colombian drug kings yesterday and began rounding up 91 other alleged drug traffickers as it ended a three-year undercover probe of cocaine cartels that laundered more than $175 million in profits.

Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who announced the arrests, said the government of Panama, where much of the drug profits were deposited, seized the traffickers' accounts yesterday.

"As we roll up the network, we're taking away the places in which they can launder their money . . . and introducing a major element of distrust into their operations," Meese said.

"FBI agents working undercover penetrated the highest levels of the money laundering rings," Meese said. "Those rings were tied directly to the alleged leaders of cocaine trafficking cartels in Colombia."

Oliver B. (Buck) Revell, executive assistant FBI director for investigations, said four of the Colombians were arrested in Miami and three were lured from Colombia to a meeting on a 48-foot sail boat off the coast of South America. The boat was manned by an FBI crew.

Meese said the investigation -- "Operation Cashweb-Expressway" -- was especially effective because its wrapup follows by five weeks Operation Pisces, a sting by the Drug Enforcement Administration in which agents laundered about $116 million in drug profits, seized more than $76 million in cash and assets and arrested more than 350 accused traffickers. The Panamanian government is also assisting in that case.

In yesterday's crackdown, arrest warrants were issued for 91 people in New York; New Haven, Conn.; Newark, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Revell said 69 people were arrested earlier on related local charges.

Revell said the money was laundered through fictitious companies in the United States, which forwarded the cash to foreign banks, mostly in Panama. He added that the "money was being turned over to {the agents} in bushel baskets."

"Traffickers and money launderers carried money to the FBI's front companies in boxes, suitcases and shopping and duffel bags in amounts ranging up to $2.5 million a trip," the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in affidavits, adding that many of the transactions are recorded on videotape.

Revell said the FBI had the opportunity to launder more than $500 million in drug profits, but he said a decision was made to limit the operation to a single major transaction per "entity" so that the FBI would not end up helping the drug traffickers. He said he believes more than $175 million will be seized in the case, including cocaine, cash and vehicles.

Meese said about $20 million in cash, $1.5 million in other assets, 2,100 pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value of about $30 million, and 22,000 pounds of marijuana had already been seized.

The FBI said the money launderers worked for four Colombian cartels headed by Pablo Escobar-Gaviria, Miguel Rodriquez, Carlos Lehder and Rigoberto Correa -- the leaders of a Colombian cocaine enterprise known as the Medellin cartel that is believed to control about 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States.

Lehder was extradited from Colombia earlier this year and is awaiting trial in Florida on federal drug charges.

The Colombians arrested yesterday were Juan Esteban Gaviria, 32, of Los Angeles; Carlos Restrepo, 37, Rodolfo Ariano Jr., 27, and Jose Ignacio Restrepo, all of Miami; and Juan Guillermo Restrepo, Rodolfo Ariano Sr., and Carlos Gaviria, 30, all of Colombia.

They were charged with conspiracy to aid and abet the possession and distribution of controlled dangerous substances. Conviction carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. @Caption: Meese: "Those rings were tied directly to...cocaine-trafficking cartels."