McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Federal authorities said Wednesday that 41 people had been indicted for their role in a drug trafficking and money laundering operation stretching from Mexico and South Texas to Georgia.
The two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Pay Cut" yielded $22 million in drug proceeds, 223 kilograms of cocaine and more than 16,000 pounds of marijuana, authorities said.
Three indictments naming the participants were unsealed in federal court in Atlanta on Tuesday, but many of those arrested were in the Rio Grande Valley.
"This is another case of a major cartel-related Mexican organization that processed huge amounts of illegal drugs and money through metro Atlanta to many other parts of the country," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said in a statement.
Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in San Antonio, said the indictment of so many would seriously disrupt operations.
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"There's a level of frustration that's increasing," Robinette said. He would not name the cartel those indicted were associated with, but said that an organization of this size with such complex operations indicate a connection to one of the major Mexican cartels. The most prevalent in the Rio Grande Valley is the Gulf Cartel.
One of the major cash seizures came in January 2007, when then-Hidalgo County sheriff's Deputy Emmanuel Sanchez was pulled over in Georgia with a pickup full of heavy equipment. Sanchez, of Mission, allegedly showed his badge hoping to end the stop, but officers found $950,000 in cash hidden in the truck. Sanchez, 48, is no longer a deputy.
Sanchez faces three charges related to money laundering and drug possession with intent to distribute. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if Sanchez had an attorney, and a phone number for him could not immediately be found.
Six months later, Georgia authorities found $13.7 million hidden in a large truck hauling livestock. A father and son from Mercedes, Texas, were driving.
Federal authorities also seized numerous properties and bank accounts from those believed to have benefited from drug proceeds. Two auto sales and auto parts businesses in Texas allegedly laundered much of the drug money.
Numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies including ICE, the IRS, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration participated in the investigation.
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