Federal authorities announced Thursday the indictment of 17 people they say are part of a “sophisticated” international drug smuggling operation that had Atlanta as its destination.
Working on a tip they received in September, federal investigators Thursday seized a passenger bus laden with narcotics in Cobb County in a sting resulting in 11 arrests of Mexican citizens living in the metro area. According to a news release, the suspects have been charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine and money laundering. Authorities are searching for the remaining suspects, all of whom are Mexican nationals.
“These defendants are charged with using the metropolitan Atlanta area as their hub for the importation and distribution of millions of dollars’ worth of illegal deadly drugs,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement. “As a result of the tremendous cooperation between federal agencies and local law enforcement partners, this drug ring is now out of business.”
Authorities swarmed over the passenger bus Thursday afternoon, eventually pulling more than 20 kilograms of mixed narcotics from a secret compartment built underneath a row of seats. The bus — one of five seized since last October — brings the haul of narcotics to an estimated 1,000 pounds worth at least $10 million. In addition, the raids have netted almost $700,000 in cash from the suspects.
The investigation was led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit. Special Agent in Charge Brock Nicholson said the alleged smuggling operation involved concealing the drugs in elaborate compartments in passenger buses running between Mexico and Atlanta.
Nicholson said great pains were taken to conceal the drugs. In the case of the bus seized Thursday, the drugs were hidden in a specially constructed compartment toward the back of the bus. Flooring was installed over the compartment and seats bolted on top of that.
“It wouldn’t be obvious to the passengers or the drivers and it would make it very hard for U.S. officials on the border to detect it,” he said.
Nicholson said four “local kingpins” were among those arrested.
“These aren’t just street dealers,” he said. “These are people who are running the operation.”
Investigators say the following people were arrested Thursday:
- Atenogenes Alvarado-Delgado, 35, of Powder Springs;
- Jose Alvarado-Delgado, 35, of Austell;
- Reberiano Arroyo-Santana, 36, of Atlanta;
- Jose Antonio Pineda-Maldanado, 22, of Smyrna;
- Yarely Pineda, 22, of Smyrna;
- Jose Cardenas-Garcia, 48, of Kennesaw;
- Alan Arnold Lopez, 24, of Mableton;
- Blanca Hernandez, 41, of Alpharetta;
- Ranferi Pineda, 24, of Norcross;
- Miguel Salinas, 22, of Lawrenceville;
- and Alejandro Carmona, 63, of Arlington, Texas.
Authorities are continuing to search for Manuel Arroyo-Delgado, Jr., 23, of Sandy Springs; Rubi Torres-Aguilar, 44, of Austell; Rufino Pineda-Perez, 48, of Lawrenceville; Enrique Arroyo, 38, of Atlanta; Reynaldo Maldonado-Guipes, 56, of Cumming; and a man identified only as “Mocha.”
More than a dozen federal, state and local agencies were involved including metro area police and sheriff’s deputies who made arrests in Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Those arrested were expected to have an initial appearance Thursday before a U.S. magistrate.