Massive Law Enforcement Operation Arrests 175 Drug Cartel Members

LawFuel – Legal Announcement Service – LawFuel Legal Jobs & News – “Project Reckoning” Leads to the Seizure of $60 Million and
More Than 40 Tons of Illegal Drugs From One of
Mexico’s Largest Drug Trafficking Cartels

Attorney General MICHAEL B. MUKASEY announced that 175
individuals were arrested today and on Sept. 16, 2008, on charges
related to an international drug trafficking cartel in a
coordinated enforcement action by hundreds of international,
federal, state and local law enforcement officials throughout the
United States and Italy. Including the operations announced
today, a long-term investigation of one of Mexico’s largest drug
trafficking cartels and its U.S. and international distribution
networks has resulted in the arrest of more than 500 individuals
in the United States, Mexico and Italy to date.

“Project Reckoning,” a multi-agency law enforcement
effort led by the DEA, targeted the Mexican drug trafficking
cartel known as the Gulf Cartel. Among those indicted are the
three alleged leaders of the Gulf Cartel: EZEQUIEL
COSTILLA-SANCHEZ. These individuals, each designated as
Consolidated Priority Organization Targets (CPOTs) by the
Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), have been
indicted in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on
charges that they conspired to import drugs into the United
States from Mexico. A CPOT designation is reserved for
significant narcotics traffickers who are believed to be the
leaders of drug trafficking organizations responsible for the
importation of large quantities of narcotics into the United

The Gulf Cartel is responsible for the transportation
of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and
marijuana from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico to the
United States, as well as the distribution of those narcotics
within the United States. The Gulf Cartel is also believed to be
responsible for laundering multiple millions of dollars in
criminal proceeds. Individuals indicted in the cases are charged
with a variety of crimes, including: drug trafficking charges
related to cocaine and marijuana; solicitation and conspiracy to
kidnap; attempted murder; conspiracy to use a firearm in a
violent crime; conspiracy to kill and kidnap in a foreign
country; interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering;
money laundering; and other related crimes.

To date, Project Reckoning has resulted in the arrest
of 507 individuals and the seizure of approximately $60.1 million
in U.S. currency, 16,711 kilograms of cocaine, 1,039 pounds of
methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,258 pounds of marijuana,
176 vehicles and 167 weapons. Project Reckoning, a 15-month
investigation, combined into one centrally coordinated effort
several multi-district enforcement operations that all involved
individuals with close ties to the Gulf Cartel. Operation Dos
Equis, Operation Vertigo, Operation Stinger and Operation The
Family as well as numerous local operations combined to form
Project Reckoning.

“By spreading dangerous drugs and resorting to brutal
violence, international drug cartels pose an extraordinary threat
both here and abroad,” said Attorney General MICHAEL B. MUKASEY.
“The scope of the threat demands a deliberate and sustained
response and the success we have had, such as the takedowns
announced today, is due to the combined efforts of federal,
state, local and international law enforcement. Although I am
pleased with the efforts so far, we cannot and will not rest on
these successes. The threat posed by international drug cartels
is too great. It will take all of us working together to

“We successfully completed a hard-hitting, coordinated
and massive assault on the powerful and extremely violent Gulf
Cartel,” said DEA Acting Administrator MICHELE M. LEONHART. “We
have arrested U.S. cell heads, stripped the cartel of $60 million
in cash, imprisoned their brutal assassins and significantly
disrupted their U.S. infrastructure. DEA will continue our
relentless attack against this cartel, aiming to dismantle them
and stop the violence they inflict on Southwest Border
* * *
Nine individuals were charged in an Indictment filed in
the Southern District of New York for their participation in an
international trafficking ring that shipped large quantities of
cocaine from the United States to Italy. According to the
Indictment in United States v. Guilio Schirripa, et al. (the SDNY
case), which was unsealed in Manhattan federal court:
purchased cocaine in the United States and caused the cocaine to
be transported to Italy, where it could be sold at substantially
higher prices. Co-defendants VINCENT SCHIRRIPA, JAVIER GUERRERO,
IGNACIO DIAZ, a/k/a “Nacho,” a/k/a “Sofilio Fernandez,” MARK
also charged for their various roles and participation in the
conspiracy, including supplying cocaine to GUILIO SCHIRRIPA and
CASTELLANO, arranging for the payment of narcotics related debts,
discussing the exchange of Euros to dollars, and traveling from
New York to Italy.

GUERRERO, DIAZ, MARGOLIES and COLLADO were arrested earlier this
morning in the greater New York area and were arraigned this
afternoon in Manhattan federal court by United States Magistrate
GUERRERO, and DIAZ were ordered detained. CASTELLANO is detained
pending a bail hearing scheduled for Friday, September 19, 2008.
MARGOLIES and COLLADO were released on bail. ALBANESE is in the
custody of Italian law enforcement officials in Italy. TADEO
remains at large. The case has been assigned to Southern
District of New York United States District Judge WILLIAM H.
* * *
MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, praised the collaborative efforts
in this investigation, stating, “This case and the others
announced today across the nation demonstrate what can be
accomplished when domestic and international law enforcement
partners work together to dismantle international narcotics
trafficking rings.”

“This operation exemplifies the European vision of the
international fight against drug trafficking,” said Dr. NICOLA
GRATTERI, Italian Public Prosecutor for the Anti-mafia District
Attorney’s Office of Reggio Calabria, Italy.

The cases announced today are being handled by
attorneys in the Southern District of New York; Northern District
of Georgia; Southern District of Texas; Northern District of
Texas; Western District of Texas; District of New Jersey; Eastern
District of Louisiana; District of New Mexico; Southern District
of Florida; Eastern District of North Carolina; and the Criminal
Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and Office of
International Affairs. In addition, local prosecutions in this
case will occur in the states of California, Georgia, Illinois,
North Carolina and Missouri.

Assistant United States Attorneys JOHN P. CRONAN and
TODD W. BLANCHE are in charge of the prosecution of the SDNY

The investigative efforts in Project Reckoning were
coordinated by the Justice Department’s Special Operations
Division, the DEA, FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Marshals Service and attorneys
from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section.
More than 200 federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement
agencies contributed investigative and prosecutorial resources to
Project Reckoning through the OCDETF. Significant assistance was
also provided by a coalition of international investigative
agencies spearheaded by DEA offices located in Colombia,
Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Italy with assistance from foreign
counterparts in each of those countries.

The charges in the SDNY case were the result of an
international investigation coordinated between the New York Drug
Enforcement Task Force — which consists of agents and officers
of the DEA, New York City Police Department, and New York State
Police — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Italian
law enforcement authorities.

The charges and allegations contained in the
Indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are
presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
08-230 ###

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