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Feds: Drug busts hobbling cartel
111 kilos of cocaine, $6 million in cash seized in Gwinnett, Atlanta raids

ATLANTA - Federal authorities said Friday two "stash houses" busted in Gwinnett this week were only the iceberg's tip of two massive, Mexican drug cartels.

But most of the local kingpins running the Atlanta-area operations are now in federal hands, officials said.

Federal agents and a myriad of local law enforcement raided a home Thursday on Isabella Circle in Norcross and another home in Lawrenceville - part of huge crackdown across metro Atlanta over the last two days.

At a press conference in downtown Atlanta, authorities exhibited the fruits of those raids in heaping stacks before them:

About $6 million in cash. More than 17 pounds of highly potent crystal meth and 111 kilograms of cocaine. And enough high-powered firearms to stop a tank.

"It's clear that these two organizations were efficient, but the law enforcement response was also efficient," said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias. "Their leadership in this region has been completely disrupted."

Nahmias said during a raid in Norcross one suspect was shot by a federal agent. Another agent, he said, was injured while pursuing another suspect over a fence.

He offered no further details in the ongoing investigations.

Authorities gave code names - "Operation Shooting Star" and "Operation Latitude Adjustment" - to the multi-agency investigations that prompted the crackdown this week.

All told, the investigations led to the arrest of 47 suspects, including people apprehended Thursday in Gwinnett. Another 21 suspects remain at large.

Nahmias believes a majority of the defendants are illegal immigrants, he said. He said many of the local kingpins are in custody, while the cartels' overlords remain active in Mexico.

The seized money will be forfeited to United States government, Nahmias said.

Rodney Benson, a special agent in charge of DEA Atlanta, said the drugs were carried or "floated over" from Mexico, channeled through Texas to the metro Atlanta area, stored in various stash houses and then moved to distribution cells from the Carolinas to New York City.

Jack Killorin, Atlanta HIDTA director, said communities across the country will benefit from the major bust orchestrated in a hotbed for drug activity.

"Atlanta has become the epicenter on the east coast for Mexican-based, drug-trafficking organizations," said Killorin.

The reason?

Killorin said the area's diversity plays a big part. But Atlanta has other savory traits for high-level drug pushers:

It's home to the world's busiest airport, a cluster of highways, is bordered by seaports and is "within a day's drive of the major population centers in the United States," Killorin said.