Feds: Bust 'tip of an iceberg'
Mexican crime group behind meth houses

ATLANTA - A Mexican crime syndicate used two Duluth homes to stash massive quantities of methamphetamine seized by federal agents earlier this week, authorities said Wednesday.

The busts were the culmination of a two-month investigation by a number of local and federal agencies that form HIDTA, or the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, officials announced at a press conference.

The 350-pound meth seizure is the largest ever recorded in the eastern United States, a bust that fuels metro Atlanta's reputation as a drug pipeline. Agents also recovered an undisclosed amount of cash and a kilo of cocaine.

Mexican drug traffickers reportedly stored drugs in the wall of the homes, located on Cambridge Park Drive and Buckingham Place in unincorporated Duluth. Four Mexican nationals arrested at the homes had been assigned to guard the stash, officials said.

Authorities also found volatile chemicals at the Buckingham Place home used to convert powdered meth into "ice," or a highly addictive, crystallized methamphetamine. Street-worth of the drugs, which were packaged for sale, is about $6 million, authorities said.

Jack Killorin, Atlanta HIDTA director, said the seizures amount to little more than "the tip of an iceberg" of drugs stashed in unassuming locales surrounding Atlanta.

"Here again we find a major international drug operation hidden in (a) middle class suburb," Killorin said in a prepared statement.

Charged with felony trafficking are Jose Rafael Lopez-Jimenez, 34; Gerardo Antonio Urena-Esquivel, 35; Luis Naranjo-Leon, 23, and Hugo Flores Rios (aka Fernando Chavez-Chavez), 29.

They remain at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond. Rios is being held for federal immigration authorities.

Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter, whose office will prosecute the case, called the busts "a good example of the type of inter-agency effort that is going to be required to fight the types of organizations setting up shop in suburban neighborhoods."