Federal authorities said on Wednesday that they have dismantled a significant Mexican drug trafficking ring operating out of Atlanta, but two women who headed trafficking “cells’’ based in Smyrna remain fugitives.
As part of the Drug Enforcement Administration's three-year "Operation G-60″ investigation, 16 alleged drug traffickers and money launderers were arrested Wednesday as more than $7 million worth of cocaine and more than $1 million in “dirty drug money’’ was confiscated according to U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
The was one of numerous state and local law enforcement agencies that assisted DEA special agents during the investigation.
“Operation G-60 has dealt a severe blow to the Mexican drug cartels operating in the metro Atlanta area,’’ Yates said. “We will continue our aggressive investigation and prosecution of drug cartels who choose to set up operations in our community.’’
One of the drug trafficking cells was in Smyrna, where Maria Madriz-Hernandez, 47, allegedly employed her daughter, Samantha Sepulveda-Madriz, 23, to distribute multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine and collect thousands of dollars of drug proceeds.
While both women remain at-large, John S. Comer, acting special agent in charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, praised the efforts of law enforcement officials for arresting those who allegedly were responsible for running “stash houses’’ and vehicles utilized by the drug organization in Atlanta.
"These traffickers were clearly working under the direction of Mexican drug cartel leadership," said Comer. "The substances that they distributed clearly destroyed lives."
The arrests were part of a criminal indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in May in which 32 individuals were charged for their participation in various criminal offenses. Those included conspiring and possessing with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine and at least 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, as well as related money-laundering charges.
According to Yates, and the charges and other information presented in court, the DEA began in June 2008 conducting the investigation of Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations operating in the metro area. In addition to Smyrna, other cells of operation included those in Atlanta, College Park and Johns Creek.
In September 2010, agents seized 24 kilograms of cocaine from a vehicle after a traffic stop in Gwinnett County and the investigation revealed that the cocaine deal allegedly involved Madriz-Hernandez.
The federal charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine of up to $4 million.