A high-level member of a global drug ring arrived in Southern California last night after being extradited from Colombia on charges that he conspired to transport cocaine worth hundreds of millions of dollars from South America to Mexico for eventual sale in the United States. The extradition resulted from a coordinated, international law enforcement operation that has led to arrests of co-conspirators on three continents.
Under the auspices of the Southern California Drug Task Force and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, the investigation into this narcotics trafficking organization is being conducted by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration, and IRS Criminal Investigation, which received substantial assistance from the Colombian, Dutch, Aruban and Thai governments.
In conjunction with the extradition, federal authorities on Thursday arrested seven defendants named in a 22-count indictment that outlines how the organization obtained ton-quantities of cocaine manufactured in South American labs; used airplanes, submarines and “go-fast” boats to move the narcotics to Mexico; and then used various means to smuggle the loads across the U.S.-Mexico border, with significant quantities of cocaine being delivered to and subsequently sold in the Los Angeles area.
In addition to the extradition of Victor Hugo Cuellar-Silva last night and yesterday’s arrests of codefendants in California and Massachusetts, six other defendants are pending extradition after being previously taken into custody in Colombia and Thailand. Authorities continue to work to secure the arrests of a number of fugitives, including Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum, the alleged ringleader of the international trafficking ring, who is believed to be in Mexico.
The indictment, which was unsealed yesterday, is unique in charging high-level traffickers across the entire drug-distribution supply chain – from Colombia-based supply sources, to Mexico-based investors and transportation coordinators, to U.S.-based stash-house operators and distributors.
Cuellar-Silva is alleged to have been the organization’s top representative in Colombia, where he oversaw operations for Chavez-Gastelum, a Mexican national who has been designated by the U.S. government as one of the world’s most-wanted drug traffickers. Chavez-Gastelum’s drug distribution network controlled its own supply routes from Colombia to Central America, and from Mexico to the United States. Chavez-Gastelum’s criminal organization was also responsible for at least two killings, with one victim’s torture and dismemberment captured on a video that has been obtained by law enforcement authorities.
“This drug ring has spread death and misery across the Americas and to other parts of the world, which makes this case among the most significant drug trafficking cases ever brought in this district,” said Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. “We are deeply grateful to the government of Colombia for helping us bring one of the key defendants to justice. Prosecutors in my office are united with our domestic and foreign partners in the fight against drug trafficking. This case shows that law enforcement will apply all of its resources to dismantle international criminal organizations that terrorize communities both here and abroad.”