Investigators said Tuesday they have gutted a giant Colombian drug cartel with charges against 77 people and four businesses accused of smuggling more than $50 million worth of cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States.
Nearly 50 people had been arrested by Tuesday in New York, Canada, Puerto Rico, California and Miami, U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley said. He said the two-year investigation put 20-year veterans of the drug trade out of business.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the investigation, Operation Mallorca, started in 2002 when a detective arrested a drug dealer in Miami and persuaded him to cooperate with the government by infiltrating nine drug rings in New York.
That led to the confiscation of $50 million worth of drugs and $7 million in drug money from bank accounts in New York, Puerto Rico and Miami, Kelley said.
Officials said the investigation included the infiltration of a sophisticated black market peso exchange used by drug organizations to launder money.
Karen P. Tandy, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, called the exchange "the largest known drug money laundering mechanism in the Western Hemisphere."
Investigators said they traced 300 illegal financial transfers to 200 bank accounts involving 170 account holders in 16 U.S. cities and 13 other nations.