ATLANTA - Federal agents this week charged 67 people, put a dent in two Mexican drug cartels that used the Atlanta area as a hub of operations and seized large quantities of cash, cocaine and assault rifles.
Details of the multistate investigation were announced Friday as criminal complaints and indictments against the suspects were unsealed.
Investigators said the arrests and seizures reinforce that the Atlanta area has become a hub for drug trafficking because of its transportation and telecommunications systems and its proximity to large U.S. population areas.
"We'll make them pay by taking away their money, and we'll try to make them pay by taking away their freedom," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said at a news conference where millions of dollars in seized cash and drugs were displayed.
The charges were a product of investigations targeting two Mexican drug trafficking organizations that allegedly smuggled cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into the U.S. for distribution in Georgia, California, North Carolina, New York and elsewhere.
The drug cartels cooperated with each other, authorities said.
Authorities said the drugs would mostly be brought across the border into Texas and trucked to the Atlanta area for distribution to other parts of the country.
Criminal complaints and indictments against the suspects were issued over the course of several days starting Tuesday, and authorities have since arrested many of the defendants, though some remained at large Friday.
Charges against them include conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. Nahmias said more charges were expected, and he added that the suspects would face significant prison time if convicted. Lawyers would be appointed to them if they didn't have their own, he said.
Nahmias said investigators had not yet determined how many, if any, of the suspects were illegal immigrants. While most of their full names were provided Friday, in many cases their hometowns and addresses were not.
A statement from prosecutors said 67 people were charged in federal court in Atlanta and that over the past several days 111 kilograms of cocaine, 17 pounds of crystal meth, roughly $8 million to $10 million in cash and at least 32 firearms were seized. Dozens of other people were arrested in California in an earlier but related investigation.
An agent suffered an injured ankle while chasing one of the suspects arrested in Georgia this week, and during another arrest shots were fired and a suspect was injured, Nahmias said, without elaborating. The injuries to the agent and the suspect were not life-threatening, he said.