Deja Vu All Over Again

It happens every few months, like having to use the plunger on a sluggish toilet. The DEA holds a press conference and claims to have broken up a major drug ring, and then the press prints every word as though the press were Moses and the DEA were a burning bush. 

Not only are the press reports unhindered by fact-checking, they are absolutely unencumbered by logic. There is also clearly no reason for the press to apply reason. Why ever would the DEA--and especially  Janet Reno--ever mislead us? 

So, once again, the DEA has "wiped out" (and I quote) "one of the largest drug distribution networks in the United States." This amounted to 94 people in the US and Mexico. Ninety-four. "One of the largest drug distribution networks in the United States." Hmmmm. So the $350 billion worth of drugs every year that make it from all parts of the world to every city in the United States with a population greater than five takes place with "networks" of fewer than 94 people? Amazing. But, of course, Janet Reno would never mislead us, would she? So I guess drug running must really be a mom and pop enterprise after all.

And, of course, if "one of the largest drug distribution networks in the United States" is no more, we can expect the street price of drugs to skyrocket, can't we? I mean, that is what happens when supply is reduced "significantly" and yet demand remains the same, isn't it? Funny, though, how street prices have never gone up so much as a penny and wholesale prices so much as a peso after these DEA announcements. In fact, the more of these DEA announcements we hear, the more the potency of street drugs goes up and the price goes down. Whatever could be going on here? Surely the DEA is not pulling our collective chain. Criminals just aren't good businesspeople, I guess.

That the DEA wants to keep itself in business is understandable. Who wants a real job where one has to work, after all? As a journalist, however, what I don't understand is why the press treats DEA press releases with the same respect it treats advertising copy--not a word gets changed or challenged, ever.

Ah, well. I do hope you enjoy this latest installment of the fictional adventures of the DEA Chronicles. And tune in again in a couple months, when once again the DEA will take several years to arrest less than 100 people who were running "one of the largest drug distribution networks in the United States."

Los Angeles Times

94 Arrests 'Wipe Out' Huge Drug Ring, DEA Reports

Syndicate, part of Mexican Juarez cartel, shipped cocaine, marijuana for U.S. distribution, authorities say.

By ESTHER SCHRADER, Times Staff Writer

September 23, 1999

WASHINGTON--Dealing a substantial blow to one of the largest drug distribution networks in the United States, authorities Wednesday said that they have arrested 94 people who allegedly were shipping and selling cocaine and marijuana throughout the Northeast, the Midwest and Southern California.
     The arrests, which included three of the ring's top leaders, were made in the United States, the Dominican Republic and Mexico beginning in March 1998, authorities said. During the operation, which spanned two years, U.S. agents seized 12 tons of cocaine, 4,800 pounds of marijuana, $19 million in U.S. currency and $7 million in assets belonging to leaders of the ring.
     The syndicate is a key U.S. distribution network of Mexico's Juarez cartel, until two years ago controlled by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, authorities said. Carrillo, once the most powerful drug trafficker in Mexico, died in July 1997 after plastic surgery, apparently intended to disguise his features from authorities.
     "By targeting the cartel's importation, transportation and distribution network, we have substantially hindered [its] ability to move cocaine and other drugs into and around this country," Atty. Gen. Janet Reno told reporters Wednesday.
     Run by Mexican nationals, the syndicate used Dominican and Colombian gangs to move the cocaine throughout the United States, authorities said. The cocaine was grown and processed in Colombia and shipped by speedboats and container ships to the Mexican resort city of Cancun, where drug lord Alcides Ramon Magana, one of the leaders of the Juarez cartel, controlled its shipments to the United States, authorities said.
     Drug Enforcement Administration officials said that the syndicate transported the cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border, then transferred it to tractor-trailers in McAllen, Texas, and shipped it to distribution centers across the country. The cocaine was wrapped in plastic bags, often emblazoned with a logo of the "Roadrunner" cartoon character, and covered with shipments of watermelon and cilantro to conceal it from authorities.
     The magnitude of the drug seizures and the number of arrests--which took place in San Diego, New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Chicago, among other cities--strike a major blow to the increasingly pervasive influence of Mexican drug syndicates in the United States, officials said.
     Mexican-run drug organizations account for about 30% of the cocaine distributed in this country and as much as three-quarters of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico, authorities estimated.
     "We have been able to wipe out an entire drug-trafficking ring," said Donnie Marshall, acting administrator of the DEA. "We effectively dismantled it from top to bottom, from Mexico to the streets of the United States."
     Those arrested, including Mexican and Dominican nationals, face charges ranging from drug distribution and conspiracy to money laundering. More than 20 additional arrests of low-level distributors connected with the ring are expected in the next few days, Reno said.
     The ring was allegedly headed by Arturo Arredondo, whose $3-million estate on the outskirts of McAllen was seized when he was arrested in mid-August and later charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
     According to authorities, Arredondo used refrigerated trucks from his produce business to transport the cocaine shipments. He allegedly controlled an intricate network of traffickers who distributed and sold drugs down to the wholesale level. The same trucks that transported the cocaine northward were used to ship hundreds of millions of dollars in cash proceeds back to Mexico, officials said.
     Arredondo's luxuriously appointed house featured a life-sized movie poster in the front hallway depicting actor Al Pacino brandishing a weapon as the violent drug dealer in the movie "Scarface," officials said.
     Another alleged ringleader who was taken into custody was Jorge Ontiveros-Rodriguez, a Cuban native and U.S. citizen who headed the organization's Southern California drug distribution network based in San Diego, authorities said. He was arrested two weeks ago as he left his San Diego home and faces weapons-related charges.
     The head of the ring's Chicago branch, Jesse Quintanilla, was arrested in May 1998 while leaving his house with a duffel bag containing several hundred thousand dollars in cash, authorities said. In all, officials said that they confiscated $6.2 million in cash from Quintanilla. According to records Quintanilla kept, he distributed 14 tons of cocaine in the Chicago area and grossed $22 million in a single five-month period last year, authorities said.
     Since August, Dominican officials have arrested two other alleged high-ranking operators of the organization, identified as Julio Ramos and Jose Luis Diaz, who oversaw drug warehouses in New Jersey.
     On Wednesday afternoon, Mexican authorities arrested an alleged top lieutenant of the drug ring, Jaime-Aguilar Gastelum, in Reynosa, Mexico.
     The investigations and raids were carried out by joint task forces of federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

DEA press release