Federal authorities in Atlanta on Wednesday announced the biggest seizure of Mexican crystal methamphetamine ever recorded east of the Mississippi River.
Federal drug enforcement agents seized about 351 pounds of meth from two houses in Duluth, in suburban Atlanta, in an operation that began Sunday and extended into Monday morning. They arrested four Mexican nationals, three of whom are in the U.S. illegally.
"This is very typical of what we see regarding Mexican drug trafficking organizations and how they operate," said Rodney Benson, who heads the Drug Enforcement Administration's Atlanta field office. "They want to blend in to communities in nondescript locations to conduct their business."
The seizure is the culmination of a two-month investigation. In addition to the crystal meth, commonly known as "ice," agents found one kilogram of cocaine, an undetermined amount of cash and chemicals and equipment for making meth.
The wholesale value of the meth seized is about $6 million, Benson said. The highly addictive drug was packaged for distribution along the East Coast and would likely be worth tens of millions of dollars on the street, he said.
Over the last several years, the Atlanta area, and especially suburban Gwinnett County, has become a major drug distribution hub for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Drugs are brought across the southwest border and along the interstates to Atlanta, where they are processed into the final product and repackaged. The traffickers tend to compartmentalize their operations so a bust doesn't bring down their whole operation.
The two houses involved were "classic stash houses," with virtually no furniture, Benson said. No guns were found and many of the bags of drugs were in the walls of the houses. Benson said he believes the drugs seized were part of a larger shipment.
Authorities haven't yet made any definite links to a specific cartel.
Arrested were four Mexican nationals living in Duluth: Fernando Chavez-Chavez, 28; Luis Naranjo-Leon, 23; Gerardo Antonio Urena-Esquivel, 35; and Jose Raphael Lopez-Jimenez, 34. They face state drug trafficking charges.
One of the houses where the meth was seized is a few doors down from a house where a drug-related shooting Monday left one person dead and three injured. Benson said there is no evidence that incident is related to the drugs seized or people arrested in this week's bust.