OF COLOMBIAN COCAINE CONSORTIUM ARRESTED
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Colombian law enforcement authorities today arrested 30 drug traffickers and money launderers in Bogota, Medellin and Cali, as part of a coordinated U.S./Colombian investigation code named Operation Millennium, Attorney General Janet Reno announced. One additional person was arrested in Mexico by Mexican authorities.
The arrests are the culmination of a 1-year operation designed to dismantle a Colombian-based transportation consortium believed to be responsible for supplying between 20 and 30 tons of cocaine per month to the United States and Europe. Operation Millennium involved the unprecedented cooperative effort of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Colombian National Police, the Fiscalia General of the Republic of Colombia, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, and the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
Among those arrested today were Alejandro Bernal Madrigal, a/k/a "Juvenal," who is believed by law enforcement officials to be one of the most significant international drug traffickers and money launderers presently operating. In addition, authorities arrested Fabio Ochoa, who was one of the leaders of the Medellin Cartel, and who allegedly has continued his drug trafficking activities with Bernal and others since he was released from prison in Colombia in 1996.
The individuals arrested today were all indicted on cocaine and money laundering charges on September 30, 1999, by a federal grand jury in Miami. The United States plans to seek their extradition.
All of the offenses charged in the indictment are alleged to have taken place after December 17, 1997, when the Colombian constitution was amended to permit the extradition of Colombian nationals.
"We believe Operation Millennium has disrupted a consortium of major Colombian drug trafficking networks responsible for flooding our streets with tons of cocaine each and every month," said Reno. "We could not have achieved this success without the unprecedented cooperation of our national and international partners."
In a pre-dawn raid, Colombian National Police arrested 14 individuals in Bogota, 1 in Cali, and 15 in Medellin. Mexican officials have also arrested one of the Colombian nationals charged in Miami. In addition, DEA agents searched locations in Florida. Colombian law enforcement agents also executed approximately 80 search warrants throughout Colombia.
As part of Operation Millennium, U.S. law enforcement seized more than 13,000 kilograms of cocaine in the last two weeks of August alone. Sixteen individuals were arrested in August in connection with those seizures and are currently being prosecuted in Mexico and Equador.
"Operation Millennium demonstrates that no drug trafficker is above the law, and illustrates the effectiveness of international cooperation as a tool to target and dismantle major international trafficking organizations," said Donnie R. Marshall, DEA Acting Administrator. "Bernal believed that his cocaine smuggling activities to Mexico insulated him from culpability in the United States, but his indictment in this country and his arrest in Colombia have proven him wrong. Bernal took his organization into a new realm where high-tech operations were the norm and where business was transacted in numerous nations."
Much of the evidence against the defendants resulted from judicially-approved wiretaps and investigative work undertaken by Colombian law enforcement authorities in response to a U.S. request for assistance under the Vienna Convention. Law enforcement devoted thousands of hours to investigating the alleged drug trafficking and money laundering activities of the defendants.
In addition, the Miami indictment also charges Mexican national Armando Valencia with drug trafficking. Valencia is believed to have risen to prominence in the Juarez Cartel after Mexican drug kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes died in July 1997. Valencia is the primary transporter of Bernal's drugs into the United States. The United States has sought the assistance of Mexican authorities for his arrest.
"Operation Millennium revealed not only the scope of the Colombian and Mexican trafficking networks, but exposed Bernal's command, control and intelligence nerve center in the Southern District of Florida, to law enforcement scrutiny," said Tom Scott, the U.S. Attorney in Miami. "These sophisticated traffickers employed state of the art communications equipment - including encrypted telephones, cloned cellular telephones and the Internet - in what was ultimately a vain attempt to avoid detection by U.S. and Colombian law enforcement."
Operation Millennium was also aided by the Special Operations Division, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Customs Service, the Broward County Sheriff's Office, the City of Miami Police Department, and the Surfside Florida Police Department.
"The selfless efforts of the combined law enforcement team has exposed the inner workings of the most significant and dangerous collection of traffickers and money launderers since the Medellin and Cali Cartels," added Scott. "The infiltration of their Colombian communications system, and their command and control operations headed by defendant Orlando Sanchez Cristancho in South Florida, has provided the most devastating of evidence - that which comes straight from the mouths of the defendants. Our prosecutors and investigators eagerly await the opportunity to bring these defendants before the Court in South Florida to face the charges against them."
Today's arrests mark the most significant success to date of the cooperative initiative spearheaded by Attorney General Reno and her Colombian counterparts Prosecutor General Alfonso Gomez-Mendez and Colombian National Police Director General Rosso Jose Serrano to target for prosecution narcotics traffickers operating in Colombia and the United States.
The charges contained in the indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.