Feds investigating Mexican drug cartel arrest 4 in metro Atlanta

Court documents made public this week pulled back the curtain on a three-year, multi-phased federal investigation into a Mexican drug cartel allegedly operating in metro Atlanta.

Atlanta is known as a regional hub for drug trafficking. And according to federal court records, four men who were arrested May 12 in the metro area are linked to a Mexican drug trafficking ring that has tentacles in Atlanta, as well as Texas, Florida, California and the Carolinas.

The four suspects — Gabriel Jimenez Atunez, Pablo Saucedo Aparicio, Martin Ascencio and Javier Munoz Ruiz — were indicted early this week and are scheduled to be arraigned Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard on charges related to drug trafficking.

The court record did not identify the cartel. And Robert Page, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, also declined to name it.

But according to the criminal complaint, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents started investigating the alleged Atlanta cell for the cartel in 2010 and arrested 16 low-level members in December of that year. Authorities then launched a second phase of the investigation in which they identified several mid-level narcotic suppliers.

The court documents say Atunez, a native of Mexico, was a local cell head. His job was to farm out the drugs and collect the proceeds for shipment back to his bosses, authorities said.

Atunez allegedly drove a silver Audi and maintained two stash houses in the 5100 block of White Boulevard in Mableton — unassuming ranch-style houses where dope could be quietly unloaded and stored until it could be shipped elsewhere.

Atunez put his brother-in-law, Aparicio, in charge of the two stash houses and let him live in one of them, court records show.

It was allegedly Atunez’s job to deposit drug proceeds in at least four separate bank accounts — making sure the cash deposit amounts were low enough to avoid bank reporting requirements.

According to a DEA affidavit, multiple couriers working for Atunez’s bosses would ferry large shipments of liquid methamphetamine over the border from Laredo, Texas, to the Atlanta area aboard commercial bus lines and other vehicles. One such shipment was delivered April 10. Another containing 11 kilograms of liquid meth was intercepted in Laredo, Texas, on April 16.

On May 11, DEA agents were watching as a courier driving a white F-350 diesel truck followed Atunez’s silver Audi to a house on Brookwood Drive in Austell. A day later, they raided the house and arrested Atunez and Aparicio.

Authorities also arrested Ascencio, a U.S. citizen and mechanic who was allegedly tasked with removing 75 liters of liquid meth that was concealed in a duplicate fuel tank attached to the Ford F-350 truck. The fourth co-defendant, Ruiz, is a legal U.S. resident accused of being a drug courier.

All four men are being held without bond at the Atlanta City Jail.

Aparicio’s defense attorney, Bill Morrison, declined to comment on the indictment because he has not yet seen the evidence. Ruiz’s defense attorney, Steven Paul Berne, said his client has no criminal history. Attorneys for the other two men did not return calls Friday.