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$21 million, 880 pounds of coke seized

ATLANTA - Federal authorities announced Friday they've dismantled two major cells of Mexican cartels fueling Gwinnett's reputation as a pipeline for illegal drugs.

A two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Four Horsemen" scrubbed more than 880 pounds of cocaine and $21 million in dirty money from metro Atlanta streets, authorities said. About half of the investigation's major busts occurred in Gwinnett.

The seized cocaine would fetch more than $10 million on the streets, said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias.

A federal grand jury handed down indictments charging 18 alleged traffickers with crimes including conspiracy to distribute cocaine and money laundering.

Nahmias said both cells had a similar modus operandi: They'd received shipments of cocaine in tractor-trailers from Mexico, then ship hefty cash payments back over the border by way of the same type of vehicles.

The special operation made several notable interceptions of such vehicles, along with residential busts, including the following in Gwinnett:

· On July 7, agents seized $51,000 while serving warrants at a home on Hollow Mill Lane in Buford;

· On Aug. 4, agents seized $179,978 in a home on Beeblossom Trail in Lawrenceville.

Authorities noted two cocaine busts in Gwinnett:

· On March 28, 2008, five kilograms were seized during a traffic stop on I-85 near Norcross;

· Five months later, 79 kilograms were seized in another traffic stop on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. Drivers and suspects in both cases are being prosecuted in Gwinnett Superior Court, Nahmias said.

Authorities have arrested eight Mexican nationals, a Texas man and Jimmy John Silva, 30, of Atlanta, in connection with the operation. The remaining defendants are fugitives, and at least two are believed to be in Mexico, Nahmias said.

The narcotics charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine of up to $4 million.