DEA-Led Operation Puma Cages Southwest Border Drug Ring
AUG 16 -- (HOUSTON)- The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas today announced the culmination of Operation Puma, a multi-jurisdictional Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that targeted an international drug trafficking and money laundering organization responsible for smuggling thousands of kilograms of cocaine and multi-ton quantities of marijuana across the U.S.- Mexico border.
Operation Puma, a 2 ½ year long DEA-led investigation which targeted both the drug distribution cells and the money laundering network of a sophisticated criminal enterprise operating along the Texas border with the United Mexican States, today resulted in the arrest of 32 individuals, the execution of 19 search warrants, and the seizure of millions of dollars in drug-related assets in McAllen, Laredo, San Antonio and Dallas, Texas. DEA teamed up with international, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to dismantle an organization which had distribution cells that ranged from the southwest border to cities throughout the United States.
“Eradication of major drug trafficking organizations require the excellent cooperative efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement you are witnessing in today’s sweeping announcements,” said United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle. “These indictments reflect remarkable investigative teamwork which has been the hallmark of the nation’s OCDETF program.”
“For years, drug trafficking organizations operating along the Rio Grande River on both sides of the U. S. - Mexico Border have presented difficult challenges for law enforcement authorities working to disrupt and dismantle their operations,” commented Zoran B. Yankovich, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Houston Field Division. “We have had our successes, but Operation Puma represents the use of “cutting edge” investigative techniques and unprecedented cooperation between U. S. Law enforcement and the Mexican government to meet the challenge. The message to these organizations should be clear + use the cross border area at your own peril.”
In the Southern District of Texas, Operation Puma has resulted in the arrest of a total of 27 individuals of which 11 were arrested today, and the seizure of 2,622 kilograms of cocaine, 15,945 kilograms of marijuana, and $5.5 million in US Currency. The individuals arrested are charged by indictments or a criminal complaint filed in the Laredo and McAllen Divisions of the District with various offenses including conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering offenses. The United States is also seeking to forfeit the interest of several persons in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash allegedly obtained through drug trafficking and property bought or used by the organization to conduct their illegal drug trafficking activity.
Included in the list of defendants charged for their alleged role in the drug trafficking enterprise investigated in Operation Puma is Carlos LANDIN-Martinez, also known as “El Puma,” “El Sapo”, and “El Patron”, a former Mexican police officer, who was arrest in McAllen, TX on July 14, 2007, after an off-duty DEA Special Agent spotted him shopping in a grocery store.
According to allegations in the criminal complaint filed following his arrest, LANDIN-Martinez was allegedly engaged in distributing cocaine and acted as a “gatekeeper” who collected a “toll” from those smuggling large quantities of drugs and proceeds through the “Reynosa plaza.” A plaza or marketplace or corridor denotes a cross-border area controlled by a drug trafficking organization that is used to smuggle illegal contraband. The gatekeeper who controls the plaza can charge a “piso” or toll for the illegal commerce that transits the plaza.
The investigation uncovered various smuggling and concealment methods used by various cells to transport drugs north and illegal proceeds south, including a drainage culvert used by an alleged transportation cell in McAllen, Texas to hand-carry multiple-kilogram quantities of cocaine to vehicles waiting by a manhole cover.
Operation Puma indictments in the Southern District of Texas and elsewhere have targeted all levels of a multi-million dollar criminal organization, to include alleged members of the command and control structure, the money laundering components, and the street level dealers.
These arrests mark the conclusion of an international and multi-jurisdictional operation that was coordinated by DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) based in Washington, D.C. Operation Puma was a joint investigation involving DEA offices in McAllen, TX, Laredo TX, Dallas, TX, and San Antonio, TX, and the associated U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the U.S. Department of Justice. Key local and state participants included the Dallas Police Department, the McKinney Police Department, the Plano Police Department, the McAllen Police Department, the Mission Police Department, the San Juan Police Department, the Weslaco Police Department, the Pharr Police Department, the San Antonio Police Department, and the Texas State Department of Public Safety.
Operation Puma also involved the cooperative effort of the offices of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Secret Service, the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), and Mexican authorities
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