NEW YORK — The alleged leader of an ethnic-Albanian organized crime syndicate was extradited from Albania to the United States Friday. He was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn on drug and money-laundering charges contained in a superseding indictment returned July 7, 2011.
Arif Kurti, 42, also known as "the Bear," "Arty," and "Nino," was arrested in Albania on a provisional warrant issued from the Eastern District of New York.
According to the indictment and other court filings submitted by the government, the syndicate comprises several inter-related ethnic Albanian family clans (also known as "fis"), with hundreds of associated members, workers and customers. In operation for more than a decade, the syndicate is allegedly responsible for organizing the importation and distribution of tens of thousands of kilograms of hydroponic marijuana from Canada and Mexico, substantial quantities of MDMA from the Netherlands and Canada, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, and large quantities of diverted prescription pills, such as oxycodone. The drugs were distributed in various locations in the United States, including New York, California, Georgia, Colorado and Florida, as well as in Canada and Europe.
To date 49 defendants have been arrested in the case. The government's four-year investigation revealed Kurti allegedly coordinated and controlled major aspects of the syndicate's international narcotics trafficking activities, including smuggling marijuana from Canada and Mexico concealed in tractor trailers, typically in hundred pound quantities, with some loads containing as much as 1,200 pounds of marijuana.
Under Kurti's direction, the syndicate also allegedly obtained kilogram quantities of cocaine from sources in the United States for export to Albania and other locations in Europe, concealed in hidden compartments inside luxury automobiles – ostensibly under the auspices of legitimate car dealerships which were actually controlled by syndicate members. The syndicate was allegedly involved in negotiations to obtain hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from sources in South America for transport through the United States to Canada and Europe, including (1) a shipment of 100 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to New York, which the defendants planned to break down into smaller shipments and smuggle into Canada in exchange for high-grade hydroponic marijuana; (2) a 100 kilogram shipment of cocaine from South America to Albania; (3) regular shipments of cocaine from Florida to New York; and (4) ongoing efforts to establish a pipeline to supply 40 kilograms of cocaine per month for distribution in Spain. The investigation further revealed that while Kurti was in Albania, he allegedly continued to direct syndicate operations by communicating instructions to his underlings.
During the course of the investigation, federal officers seized more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana, approximately $2,000,000.00 in suspected drug proceeds, twenty-two handguns, a military/police-issue assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
"Arif Kurti was allegedly one of the top leaders of a multinational drug trafficking organization seeking to expand its operation and further feed its poison all over the world," said HSI New York Special Agent-in-Charge James T. Hayes Jr. "Kurti's extradition demonstrates HSI's and its law enforcement partners' world-wide reach to capture those who violate U.S. laws and bring them to justice."
"As alleged, Kurti ran a multimillion dollar crime syndicate that spanned the globe and trafficked in narcotics in the U.S. and worldwide. Thousands of pounds of narcotics and millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains were under his control," said Loretta E. Lynch, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "Thanks to the combined efforts of our partners in law enforcement in the United States, and the assistance provided by authorities in Albania, there is no safe haven for drug traffickers, including the alleged leader of an international drug trafficking organization."
Brian R. Crowell, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in New York stated, "This was a global drug trafficking network in every sense of the term, operating on three continents. Arif Kurti is alleged to have directed the importation and distribution of tons of cocaine, MDMA, diverted prescription medications and marijuana in every hemisphere. This extradition highlights the focus of international law enforcement and demonstrates that an international border will not deter our commitment to protect our nation from drug trafficking organizations."
If convicted, Kurti, who is charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise and using firearms in furtherance of the syndicate's drug trafficking crimes, faces a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life imprisonment.
The investigation into Albanian organized crime groups operating throughout the world was led by the New York Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Strike Force, HSI, and the New York State Police, in coordination with the Attorney General's Organized Crime Committee, International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, as well as DEA's Special Operations Division.
The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Tiscione, Gina Parlovecchio, Richard Tucker, Michael Yaeger, Una Dean and Claire Kedeshian.