In Operation Pacific Rim, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), working closely with the Colombian National Police and Mexican authorities, took down a major drug trafficking organization -- an industrial and transportation empire with a profit margin in the billions. The drug kingpins operating out of Colombia wrestled with a vexing problem -- they made so much money from illegal narcotics trafficking that they couldn't launder it all.
In fact, tracking the cold hard cash is one of the specialties of ICE's investigative directorate, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI is the largest investigative agency within the Department of Homeland Security. HSI agents working with ICE Attaché offices in Bogota and elsewhere brought this giant among drug organizations to its knees. HSI began Operation Pacific Rim in September 2009 after scoring a previous victory in an investigation where they seized $41 million in Colombia and Mexico. This is often the case in federal law enforcement, with one case that tips investigators off to an even bigger fish to fry.
The case began when HSI and Colombian police intercepted a suspicious shipment of what was supposed to be fertilizer, but what in actuality turned out to be bundles of shrink-wrapped cash.
As investigators delved deeper into the case, even experienced agents marveled at the enormity and sophistication of this criminal enterprise.
"This drug trafficking organization (DTO) was a far cry from a few small-time hoodlums," said James Dinkins, HSI Executive Associate Director. "These corrupt people were involved in murder, kidnapping and other forms of violence and lawlessness, but posed as legitimate business owners. They invested in apartment complexes and office buildings, yet they still had money to hide."
Luis Agustin Caicedo Velandia, also known as "Don Lucho," led this international enterprise of money launderers and drug traffickers who sent cocaine all over the globe.
Lucho earned the dubious distinction as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT), a title law enforcement authorities use to signify narcotics traffickers who are believed to be the leaders of DTOs responsible for importing large quantities of narcotics into the United States.
"This case sends a warning to drug kingpins all over the world -- they are never too big to fail," said ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. "In fact, this case proves that the drug trafficking organizations put themselves in a double bind. The larger their network of operations and the more illegal narcotics and cash that flow from their base of operations, the more clues are out there for ICE to trace back to them."
The El Dorado Task Force of ICE's HSI Directorate coordinated this investigation. This task force consists of 260 members from local, state and federal law enforcement, intelligence analysts and federal prosecutors. They target financial crime at all levels. Since its inception, the El Dorado Task Force has made more than 2,200 arrests and seized more than $600 million in illegal proceeds.