Drug cartel busted
11 local residents arrested in sting

ATLANTA - Eleven Gwinnett residents are among 34 people federally indicted on charges they work for a violent Mexican drug cartel with deep-rooted operations in the metro area, officials announced Wednesday.

Two indictments unsealed Tuesday in Atlanta allege the individuals are members of the "Gulf Cartel," a major drug distributor with transportation "cells" in Gwinnett and other metro area hubs. According to U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, the individuals coordinated the sale of millions of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana in the U.S. and arranged to have the proceeds funneled back to Mexico, at times using violent methods to carry out orders. The Atlanta case is part of a nationwide bust orchestrated Tuesday and Wednesday that netted 175 suspects allegedly connected to the cartel. The Norcross Police Department, Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department and the Gwinnett Police Department were participating agencies locally, authorities said.

Mukasey, in Atlanta on Wednesday to announce the bust, deemed the shakedown a "major" blow to the Gulf Cartel. Headquartered in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, the Gulf Cartel reportedly uses savage violence - beheadings even - in clashes with rival organizations and law enforcement in Mexico.

"By spreading dangerous drugs and resorting to brutal violence, international drug cartels pose an extraordinary threat both here and abroad," Mukasey said. "The scope of the threat demands a deliberate and sustained response and the success we have had, such as the takedowns announced today, is due to the combined efforts of federal, state, local and international law enforcement."

According to the two indictments and information presented in federal court, a multi-agency, 15-month investigation identified a drug distribution and transportation cell of the Gulf Cartel being run out of Texas and operating in several cities - including Atlanta - according to Mukasey.

Money generated by the Atlanta distribution cell was allegedly shipped to Texas and then Mexico via tractor trailer, authorities said. The transportation cell arranged for truck drivers to meet with drug traffickers and receive drug proceeds, which were concealed among legitimate cargo being hauled to Atlanta; Jackson, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; Indianapolis; and Austin, Texas.

Arrests were made Tuesday and Wednesday at "stash houses" across the metro area including Gwinnett, authorities said.

Eleven of the 34 people indicted in Atlanta are from Gwinnett; a majority of the others reside in south Texas, records show. Justice Department spokesman Patrick Crosby said 23 of the 34 are in custody.

Charges run the gamut, including drug trafficking, solicitation and conspiracy to kidnap, attempted murder, conspiracy to use a firearm in a violent crime, conspiracy to kill and kidnap in a foreign country, interstate and foreign travel in aid of racketeering, and money laundering, Crosby said.

A Lawrenceville man, Edgar Rodriguez-Alejandro, 20, is allegedly a major figure of the local trafficking operation, authorities said. He has been in custody since May after being arrested by Gwinnett County Police while in possession of $7.65 million and 12 kilograms of cocaine.

In addition to Rodriguez-Alejandro, Gwinnett residents indicted include Jose Luis Hernandez, 32, of Sugar Hill; Oscar Arias-Reyes, 23, of Lawrenceville; Eder Jonathan Mora Quezadas, 20, of Lawrenceville; Gustavo Martinez, 22, of Lawrenceville; Fnu Lnu, of Sugar Hill; Juan Salinas Gonzalez, 32, of Lawrenceville; Pascal Marroquin-Alvarez, 43, of Norcross; Rosario Vanessa Zavala, 30, of Norcross; Jimmy Quiroz Baldwin of Lawrenceville; and Fnu Lnu of Lawrenceville.

To date, authorities said, the nationwide sweep, known as Project Reckoning, has netted of 332 individuals and the seizure of approximately $57.7 million in U.S. currency, 16,347 kilograms of cocaine, 485 pounds of methamphetamine, 19 pounds of heroin, 51,147 pounds of marijuana, 114 vehicles and 116 weapons.