"Operation Enigma" Cripples International Drug Ring
SEP 4 -Special Agent in Charge (SAC) W. Michael Furgason, Sr. of the Atlanta Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Northern District of Georgia United States Attorney William S. Duffey Jr. announced the takedown of a large-scale international poly-drug organization that was considered one of the Attorney General's "most wanted" drug trafficking enterprises. In a news conference today, federal, state and local officials unveiled "Operation Enigma", a national investigation targeting a complex Mexican organization illegally trafficking in ton quantities of marijuana, as well as multi-hundred pound amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine.
Operation Enigma targeted a transportation/distribution group that spanned multiple states and reports to the Armando Valencia Organization (AVO) located within the Mexican states of Michoacan and Jalisco. The AVO was one of 53 criminal organizations designated by the Attorney General as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT). CPOT is a list of the "World's Most Wanted" drug and money laundering enterprises responsible for the most significant supply of drugs to the United States. This AVO cell co-inhabited the McAllen, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan areas.
This was an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation conducted by the DEA's Atlanta Field Division Office along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (BICE), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Fayette County Sheriff's Office, Georgia Pardons and Parole, and Georgia Department of Corrections.
SAC Furgason stated that in the Atlanta area alone, Operation Enigma has led to the execution of 18 search warrants, the indictment of 24 individuals, and the filing of criminal complaints charging an additional 12 people. Over the past four days, over 200 law enforcement officers, including six SWAT teams have made 24 arrests, seized 18 kilograms of cocaine, 500 pounds of marijuana, 2 pounds of methamphetamine, enough liquid methamphetamine to produce a half pound of "ice", over $2.5 million in U.S. Currency, 8 vehicles, and 13 guns, including two assault rifles and a submachine gun.
The conspirators are known to utilize hidden compartments welded into the gas tanks of tractor trailers, and cover loads of produce to transport the illegal drugs northbound from the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Bulk shipment is the preferred method of returning the illegal drug proceeds back through South Texas and into Mexico. During June 2003, one such bulk shipment of almost $1 million U.S. Currency, bound for South Texas, was seized in the Atlanta area from false compartments in cars stacked on an automobile carrier. During the same month, the OCDETF Task Force was able to provide information to DEA McAllen that yielded 5,600 pounds of marijuana.
The organization is well-disciplined, violent, and very knowledgeable about law enforcement investigative techniques. Consequently, the OCDETF Task Force was frequently challenged with multiple obstacles created by the traffickers. According to Furgason- Investigators worked diligently to overcome those obstacles presented and utilized multiple investigative avenues to bring the case to fruition. He also noted that 23 of the 24 defendants arrested are citizens of Mexico illegally residing in the U.S.
DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy stated, "There is nothing puzzling about the message Operation Enigma sends to drug traffickers. During the past week, Mexican and United States authorities have combined to deal a crippling series of blows to the Armando Valencia Organization (AVO), one of the 53 most-wanted drug trafficking and money laundering organizations on the Attorney General's list known as the Consolidated Priority Organization Target List (CPOT). These significant enforcement operations could not have been accomplished without the dedicated efforts of law enforcement on both sides of the border- beginning with the Mexican authorities, whose tenacity and dedication led to the arrest of Valencia himself on August 15th and culminating with Operation Enigma operations which resulted in the takedown of AVO transportation and distribution cells in Atlanta, Knoxville, and McAllen during the past week. DEA is indebted to the 30 federal, state, and local agencies that supported these enforcement activities.
The message Operation Enigma sends to DEA is also abundantly clear. To successfully dismantle illegal drug empires, all law enforcement, both foreign and domestic, must band together to attack these trafficking networks from their roots to the tips of their branches."
SAC Furgason said, "Atlanta and neighboring cities and states are confronting changes in the drug trafficking threat. Joint enforcement operations such as these demonstrate law enforcement's ability to respond to those changes. It is no exaggeration to say that Atlanta has become a base of operations for well organized and powerful international criminal organizations. These organizations are extending their drug distribution network throughout the United States. Our enforcement efforts are dedicated to identifying, arresting, and prosecuting not only the international criminals based in the United States, but their leaders that are headquartered in foreign countries."
Atlanta was the primary distribution point for the organization. The defendants stored drugs here and distributed them to North Carolina, Tennessee, and along the East Coast of the United States. In addition to the takedown actions in Georgia; DEA in Knoxville, Tennessee, and McAllen, Texas simultaneously executed an additional 21 arrest warrants and 14 search warrants. Since November 2002, seizures from the organization have totaled approximately 25,000 pounds of marijuana, about $3.9 million U.S. Currency, 300 kilos of cocaine, 21.9 kilos of methamphetamine, and 35 guns, including 8 assault rifles and an illegal machine gun.
The OCDETF Task Force wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the Georgia State Patrol, Cobb County and Gwinnett County Police Departments during this massive round-up.
The public is reminded that the indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent and it will be the government's burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Brown and William Thomas are prosecuting the Operation Enigma case in Atlanta.