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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Strike against Mexican cartel began in Roswell

Recently newspapers all over the country published accounts of the nationwide drug bust that brought down a massive Mexican drug cartel's operations in 20 states and netted more than 300 arrests.

But what they didn't say was that a Roswell cop who is a member of the Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force (HIDTA) and a partner developed the break that led to those nationwide arrests.

When Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, DEA Atlanta Field Division Special Agent in Charge Rodney G. Benson, HIDTA Director Jack Killorin and Roswell Police Department Chief Ed Williams announced Oct. 28 the arrests of 38 defendants in metro Atlanta, you could excuse Chief Williams for having perhaps the widest smile.

He takes a lot of pride in the fact that his officer played a major role in pushing over a row of dominos that together has crippled drug trafficking in the United States for at least one major drug cartel.

The defendants were arrested Oct. 21 as part of Project Coronado, a nationwide operation that targeted the distribution network "La Familia Michoacana" or "La Familia."

Hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers made the arrests across metropolitan Atlanta.

In February 2009, the HIDTA and the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office initiated an investigation targeting elements of La Familia responsible for the importation of drugs into the metropolitan Atlanta area for further distribution to Florida, Alabama and the Carolinas.

"Our agent [the Roswell officer] initiated this case, our agent started and ran it to ground," Williams said.

The agent spoke to a reporter only by phone and with voice disguised to hide his identity because of the very real fear of violent retaliation by the cartel.

"These folks are real killers. They would deem it important to gain revenge if they can," said Williams.

According to the agent, the evidence came in the form of court-ordered telephone surveillance. The agent and his partner were able to begin creating a pattern of contacts that ultimately led to 35 cities in 20 states.

"It just mushroomed. Leads were passed on to other cities and it all spun into this huge thing," the agent said. "No, it is not unusual for there to be a lot cooperation among agencies working together. What was unusual was the breadth and depth of the operation we discovered."

La Familia is a violent, drug-trafficking cartel based in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan. It controls not only drug manufacturing and distribution in and around Michoacan, but the importation of vast quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana into the United States.

According to authorities, La Familia is a heavily armed cartel that uses violence to support its narcotics trafficking business including murders, kidnappings and assaults within Mexico.

As evidence of the role played by the Roswell break in the case, the Roswell agent and the agent's partner were made the case agents by the DEA.

"Considering this is a national case, that was a pretty high honor," Williams said. "We are real proud of our task force officer's involvement in this. An entire organization has been dismantled. And the city of Roswell is a safer place today because of it."

In the Atlanta metro area alone, there were 117 arrests with offenses including trafficking, conspiracy and aggravated kidnapping.

The operation also netted 17 kilos of cocaine, 13 weapons and $50,000.

Law enforcement also seized 188 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and an operational methamphetamine conversion laboratory with 60 gallons of methamphetamine in solution.

The investigation was conducted through the cooperative efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Roswell Police Department, the Gwinnett County Police Department, the Atlanta Police Department, the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Suwanee Police Department, the Barrow County Sheriff's Office, the Alpharetta Police Department, the Sandy Springs Police Department, the Johns Creek Police Department, the Commerce Police Department, the Floyd County Sheriff's Office and the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

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