HOUSTON (CN) – Unsealing a 43-count indictment, federal agents said they arrested 43 people Wednesday morning and seized millions of dollars from a Houston home, breaking up a cocaine-and-heroin trafficking operation involving an associate of the Gulf Cartel.
Houston DEA Special Agent in Charge Will Glaspy said the main target of the dragnet, dubbed Operation Wrecking Ball, is Mexican national Carlos Alberto Guajardo. Though Guajardo is the first of 56 people named in the indictment, he is still at large.
A resident of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, Guajardo supplied drugs to six separate distribution cells in the Houston-Galveston area, Glaspy said at a news conference alongside Houston U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick and agents from the U.S. Marshal’s Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the IRS.
“We’ve all partnered together to target an international drug-trafficking organization believed to transport over 100 kilos of cocaine from Mexico to Houston every month,” Glaspy said.
He said the dealers sold some of the drugs in Texas, and some of it was shipped in cars and semitrucks to associates in Atlanta, Boston, New York, New Orleans, New Jersey and Norfolk, Va.
Glaspy said the investigation began in August 2016 and culminated Wednesday morning when more than 300 hundred law enforcement officers executed 25 federal warrants, 23 in the Houston area and two in the Rio Grande Valley.
They arrested 43 people with little resistance other than a few men who barricaded themselves in their houses, Glaspy said.
“They were coaxed out later,” he said.
He said police had seized 124 kilos of cocaine, four kilos of heroin and more than $3.1 million in U.S. currency and assets, including an eye-popping haul from a Houston home.
“Additionally this morning, law enforcement seized 33 vehicles and a large sum of cash from a residence in Houston, which at this point we believe to be somewhere in the neighborhood of between $1 and $3 million,” Glaspy said.
“Pardon me, our guys can’t count that fast, so I don’t know if it’s $1 or $3 million, but we’re guessing it’s somewhere in between,” he added.
Patrick said the case is unusual for South Texas because four of the six distribution cells were led by Dominican nationals, who officials said worked hand-in-hand with Mexican drug cartels.
The 47 defendants in custody will make their initial appearances at the Houston federal courthouse starting Thursday morning, Patrick said. Their detention hearings will also be held in Houston.
But he said their cases will be prosecuted in Galveston federal court, as many of the stash houses involved in the case were in Galveston County and the Galveston Police Department played a major role in the investigation.
Of the 56 defendants, nine are fugitives. The defendants are facing drug, conspiracy and money laundering charges. If convicted, some could be sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines.
Glaspy hedged when asked if the DEA will work with Mexican law enforcement to try to track down Guajardo and extradite him to the United States.
“I would say our relationship with the Mexican government now is as good as it’s ever been before,” he said.