AUG 20 (BROOKLYN, N.Y.) - Earlier today, Nicholas Masi, the final defendant in this case charging 49 members and associates of an international drug trafficking syndicate led by ethnic Albanians located in the United States, Canada, and Europe (the “syndicate”), pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Dora L. Irizarry at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn to drug trafficking charges contained in a superseding indictment returned on July 11, 2011.
The guilty pleas were announced by Brian R. Crowell, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division (DEA); Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York, and Toni Weirauch, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Crowell stated, “This global organization operated from our street corners to the tops of the supply chain in Canada, Mexico, South America, and Netherlands. We estimate the organization was earning at least $15 million per year trafficking cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, and oxycodone. Our investigative partners at the international, state, local, and federal levels are commended for working tirelessly to shut down this violent syndicate.”
“This family led business was no ‘Mom and Pop’ organization, but a sophisticated ring of international drug dealers and money launderers. They dealt in narcotics by the thousands of pounds and drug proceeds in the multi-millions, and had no qualms about using violence to protect their ill-gotten gains. For more than a decade their web of narcotics trafficking and violence literally spanned the globe. With the assistance of our law enforcement partners across the country, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York was able to bring this prolific criminal syndicate to justice,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “We and our partners in law enforcement are committed to investigating and prosecuting international drug traffickers and seizing the proceeds of their crimes. We remain relentless in this pursuit.”
“Today, a violent and ruthless criminal organization that operated an extensive drug supply route in multiple countries has been dismantled,” HSI Special Agent in Charge Hayes stated. “The public expects law enforcement to work together in order to keep our communities free from drugs and the violence that comes with it. These convictions help do just that.”
IRS Special Agent in Charge Weirauch stated, “These convictions represent an extraordinary accomplishment in the fight against global drug trafficking. International money laundering remains a high priority for IRS-Criminal Investigation and we are proud to stand with our law enforcement partners as we acknowledge this achievement and look ahead to dismantling other international syndicates.”
The syndicate comprised several inter-related ethnic Albanian family clans (also known as “fis”) with hundreds of associated members, workers, and customers spanning three continents. In operation for more than a decade, the syndicate was responsible for organizing the importation and distribution of tens of thousands of kilograms of hydroponic marijuana from Canada and Mexico, substantial quantities of MDMA from the Netherlands and Canada, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru, and large quantities of diverted prescription pills, such as oxycodone. The drugs were distributed in various locations in the United States, including New York, California, Georgia, Colorado, and Florida, as well as in Canada and Europe.
The four-year investigation revealed that most of the marijuana smuggled from Canada and Mexico was concealed in tractor trailers, typically in hundred pound quantities, with some shipments weighing as much as 1,200 pounds. The marijuana shipments were stored in warehouses and stash locations throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, before distribution. Kilogram quantities of cocaine were obtained from sources in the United States and exported to Albania and other locations in Europe concealed in hidden compartments inside luxury automobiles – ostensibly under the auspices of legitimate car dealerships which were actually controlled by syndicate members. Until the arrests of its members in July 2011, the syndicate was involved in negotiations to obtain hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from sources in South America for transport through the United States to Canada and Europe. The syndicate was also involved in obtaining large shipments of oxycodone; a highly addictive prescription medicine used to treat severe pain, and during the past year distributed thousands of oxycodone pills in New York which had been diverted from pain clinics in Florida.
The government’s investigation further revealed that the syndicate employed the services of a Canadian-based money laundering organization, which was allegedly responsible for laundering more than $15 million of the syndicate’s narcotics proceeds in a single year. Typically, the launderers picked up drug money in New York and transported it to Canadian and Mexican drug suppliers. The syndicate also sent millions of dollars in marijuana sale proceeds to co-conspirators on the West Coast of the United States to purchase cocaine from Mexican drug cartels. The cocaine was then allegedly transported across the border into Canada for distribution, with the proceeds to be used to fund subsequent marijuana purchases. Several defendants are believed to have committed drug and organized-crime-related violence, including kidnaping and attempted murder. For example, on June 4, 2011, an escalating dispute between syndicate members over the payment of a drug debt led to a shooting outside a Bronx restaurant-bar, and a potential drug-related shooting was narrowly averted in October 2010, when law enforcement agents intercepted a syndicate member with a loaded firearm en route to rob a drug customer who owed him money from a prior drug deal.
During the course of the investigation, federal agents seized more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana, approximately $2 million in suspected drug proceeds, 22 handguns, a military/police-issue assault rifle, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Tiscione, Gina Parlovecchio, Una Dean, and Claire Kedeshian.
The investigation was led by the DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, which is comprised of agents and officers of the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York City Police Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the New York State Police, the U. S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Secret Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service. Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the DEA Special Operations Division, DEA Newark Division, DEA Denver Division, DEA Miami Division, DEA Rome Country Office, the HSI attaché in Vienna, HSI attaché in Toronto, HSI Albany Office, HSI Denver Office, HSI Newark Office, HSI Miami Office, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Prosecutor’s Office, the Westchester District Attorney’s Office and the New York Attorney General’s Office for their assistance.