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Attorney General Eric Holder on Project Coronado
Washington, D.C. ~ Thursday, October 22, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good morning. With me today are Director of the FBI, Bob Mueller; Administrator of the DEA, Michele Leonhart; and Acting Director of the ATF, Ken Melson.

We are here to announce a major law enforcement action as part of Project Coronado, a 44-month operation targeting the La Familia cartel’s distribution networks within the United States.

Yesterday and this morning, more than 3,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have worked throughout the United States to locate and arrest more than 300 individuals. Over the last two days, arrests have been carried out in 19 states, and we continue to make additional arrests as we speak.

This unprecedented, coordinated U.S. law enforcement action is the largest ever undertaken against a Mexican drug cartel.

Coordinated by the Special Operations Division and attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section, many of whom are here with us today, this operation has dealt a significant blow to La Familia’s supply chain of illegal drugs, weapons, and cash flowing between Mexico and the United States.

Over the course of the operation, 1,186 people have been arrested, including the 303 people arrested yesterday and today. In Dallas alone yesterday, we arrested 77 people.

In addition to arrests, we have seized more than $32 million in U.S. currency, more than 2,700 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly 2,000 kilograms of cocaine, approximately 16,000 pounds of marijuana, and 29 pounds of heroin during the 44-month Project. In the last two days alone, we seized $3.4 million in U.S. currency and nearly 730 pounds of methamphetamine, as well as other narcotics. We have also seized close to 400 weapons, including a homemade grenade found in a search in Washington yesterday. These are drugs that were headed for our streets, and weapons that often were headed for the streets of Mexico.

I’ll let DEA and ATF talk more about the specifics of some of these cases, but I want to emphasize one over-arching point: The La Familia cartel has demonstrated an incredible level of sophistication and ruthlessness. To combat this violent criminal enterprise, we must be coordinated at all levels of law enforcement. That coordinated approach is what today’s takedown is all about.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with La Familia, it is the newest and most violent of the five Mexican drug cartels. Alleged to have shipped large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine from Mexico to cities throughout the United States, La Familia is one of three Mexican drug trafficking organizations against which the United States imposed sanctions earlier this year under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

The sheer level and depravity of violence that this cartel has exhibited far exceeds what we have, unfortunately, become accustomed to from other cartels. La Familia operates primarily from the state of Michoacán, Mexico. However, as we’ve shown today, their operations stretch far into the United States. Indeed, while this cartel may operate from Mexico, the toxic reach of its operations extends to nearly every state in the country.

That’s why we are hitting them where it hurts the most – their revenue stream. By seizing their drugs and upending their supply chains, we have disrupted their "business as usual" state of operations.

As I have said before, this is not a one-country problem and solving it will take more than a one-country solution. The government of Mexico has taken courageous steps to combat the cartels, and we stand with them in that fight. La Familia’s attacks against Mexican law enforcement officials only make the valiant efforts of our friends and partners across the border more heroic.

And just as our Mexican partners are standing strong, the cartels should know that we in the United States are not going to allow them to operate unfettered in our country. When you seek to extend your nefarious criminal networks north of the border, we will come after you – here in the United States, in Mexico, or wherever else in the world you may be found.

I and other senior Department of Justice officials have traveled to Mexico and have had productive meetings with our Mexican colleagues. It is through close, personal working relationships at all levels that together we are fighting these cartels that bring drugs and violence into our communities.

I would like to thank the thousands of brave law enforcement agents and officers who, every day, put themselves at risk in the pursuit of justice. And I’d like to say a special thank you to the agents and prosecutors who coordinated this mammoth takedown. It simply could not happen without their valiant efforts to put all the pieces of this dangerous puzzle together.

I have stood before you in the past to announce charges and arrests related to Mexican drug cartels. There is no doubt in my mind I will do so again in the future. No one strike is going to bring an immediate end to the cartels, but these sustained, direct blows to the heart of cartel operations in the United States are making a difference. With the increases in cooperation between U.S. and Mexican authorities in recent years, we are taking the fight to our adversaries, and in so doing, we are making our communities safer and more secure.

I will now turn it over to the Administrator of the DEA, Michele Leonhart.

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