LOS ANGELES (CN) – An airplane full of cocaine that crashed in the Caribbean Sea, submarines and fast boats were just a few of the ways a drug-trafficking ring operated its international network to smuggle its product through Mexico and Los Angeles, according to federal prosecutors who indicted seven suspects and extradited one high-ranking member to the United States late Thursday.
The ring moved tons of cocaine manufactured in South American labs into Mexico and then across the U.S.-Mexico border, with large amounts of cocaine delivered and sold in Los Angeles, according to the 22-count indictment unsealed Thursday.
Colombian officials extradited Victor Hugo Cuellar-Silva to the United States. Federal prosecutors describe him as a high-ranking member who oversaw operations for suspected trafficking ringleader Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum, a Mexican national who remains a fugitive.
Authorities arrested several other suspects in California and Massachusetts, and another six more may be extradited from Colombia and Thailand.
The indictment spans a wide swath of the drug trafficking organization, from the Colombia-based suppliers, Mexico-based investors, coordinators and smugglers and U.S.-based operators and distributors.
Prosecutors also linked the criminal organization to two murders. They said one victim was tortured and dismembered on video, which in the possession of authorities.
Federal agents captured 7,700 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $500 million across the trafficking network over a three-year period. Some of those seizures included a crashed plane in the Caribbean Sea, bales of cocaine found floating off the coast of Tumaco, Colombia, and several operations in Southern California, including eight kilograms and $125,000 found in North Hollywood.
The suspects arrested in California and Massachusetts have been arraigned and all pleaded not guilty, prosecutors said.
Chavez-Gastelum, Cuellar-Silva and three other suspects face charges of participating in a continuing enterprise and drug trafficking, firearms, and money laundering offenses, according to federal prosecutors. The charges against Chavez-Gastelum carry a mandatory life sentence, while the others face a minimum of 20 years in federal prison if convicted
Prosecutors said two other suspected drug traffickers were extradited to the United States in 2016. Both awaiting sentencing, according to the Justice Department.
Cuellar-Silva will be arraigned Friday afternoon in federal court in downtown Los Angeles.