NEW YORK — Thirty-seven members and associates of an international ethnic-Albanian organized crime group were arrested for trafficking cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy (MDMA) and prescription drugs. The defendants also laundered tens of millions of dollars in narcotics proceeds.
All 37 were arrested yesterday by the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, following an investigation conducted by: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); New York City Police Department (NYPD); Internal Revenue Service (IRS); New York State Police (NYSP); New York Attorney General's Organized Crime Committee; and the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center.
The members and associates of the transnational organized crime syndicate were led by ethnic Albanians located in the United States, Canada and Europe.
"This alleged international drug ring was intent on filling the streets of American with poison," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York. "The arrests here and overseas serve as an example of the reach of the long arm of the law. HSI, working with its attaches and international and federal law enforcement partners, has contributed to the disruption of a crime syndicate that has allegedly lined its pockets with drug smuggling money for more than a decade."
A detention letter filed and the indictment unsealed yesterday revealed the syndicate comprises several inter-related ethnic Albanian family clans (also known as "fis") with hundreds of associated members, workers and customers spanning three continents. 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.
"As charged in the indictment, this syndicate spread its tentacles across continents, sending its ruinous product worldwide and reaping enormous profits. Its ten-year run has now come to an end," stated Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "We and our partners in law enforcement are committed to investigating and prosecuting international drug traffickers and seizing the proceeds of their crimes. We remain relentless in this pursuit."
"This alleged organized crime syndicate oversaw a drug distribution organization that operated across the globe," stated John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of DEA's New York field division. "With a reach from Albania to Canada to New York and numerous cities throughout, law enforcement identified this criminal conspiracy as well as the violent acts committed in order to continue its drug distribution network. DEA's Strike Force and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners were successful in dismantling the Thaqi organization and making an impact on the illicit drug trafficking across the nation."
"The long reach of this criminal syndicate injected illegal drugs, including highly addictive oxycodone painkillers, into thousands of lives and subjected neighborhoods to violence ranging from kidnappings to attempted murder," said NYPD Commissioner Raymond W Kelly. "With these arrests, we say good riddance."
"IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to fighting the war on illegal drugs with our federal, state and local partners on the New York Organized Crime Strike Force," stated Charles R. Pine, special agent in charge of the IRS' New York Criminal Division. "We are proud to lend our financial expertise to help disrupt drug trafficking organizations."
"I am proud of the dedicated investigative efforts of our agency personnel and law enforcement partners which have culminated in the indictment of these individuals, sizeable seizures of drugs and currency, and have effectively ended this syndicate's operations," stated Joseph A. D'Amico, superintendent of the New York State police.
Most of the defendants were arrested early yesterday in the counties of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, New York, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Orange, Albany, the area of Long Island, and in the states of New Jersey, Colorado and Florida.
Federal agents also executed search warrants yesterday morning on seven different syndicate-controlled stash houses and residences, recovering 18 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Two defendants were arrested last month following a drug-related shooting, and several others are already in custody for previously charged crimes. One of the alleged ringleaders was arrested by law enforcement agents in Albania, and the United States has requested his extradition. Those defendants arrested yesterday in New York.
According to the indictment and other court filings submitted by the government, the four-year investigation revealed that most of the marijuana smuggled from Canada and Mexico was concealed in tractor trailers, typically in hundred pound quantities, with some shipments weighing as much as 1,200 pounds. The marijuana shipments were stored in warehouses and stash locations throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, before distribution. Kilogram quantities of cocaine were obtained from sources in the United States and exported to Albania and other locations in Europe concealed in hidden compartments inside luxury automobiles â€“ ostensibly under the auspices of legitimate car dealerships which were actually controlled by syndicate members.
At the time of the arrests yesterday, 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.
According to the government's pleadings and other court filings, the syndicate was also involved in obtaining large shipments of oxycodone, a highly addictive prescription medicine used to treat severe pain, and during the past year distributed thousands of oxycodone pills in New York which had been diverted from pain clinics in Florida.
The government's investigation further revealed that the syndicate employed the services of a Canadian-based money laundering organization, which was allegedly responsible for laundering more than $15 million of the syndicate's narcotics proceeds in a single year. Typically, the launderers picked up drug money in New York and transported it to Canadian and Mexican drug suppliers. The syndicate also sent millions of dollars in marijuana sale proceeds to co-conspirators on the West Coast of the United States to purchase cocaine from Mexican drug cartels. The cocaine was then allegedly transported across the border into Canada for distribution, with the proceeds to be used to fund subsequent marijuana purchases.
According to the government's detention memorandum, several defendants are believed to have committed drug and organized-crime-related violence, including kidnapping and attempted murder. For example, on June 4, 2011, an escalating dispute between syndicate members over the payment of a drug debt led to a shooting outside a Bronx restaurant-bar, and a potential drug-related shooting was narrowly averted in October 2010, when law enforcement agents intercepted a syndicate member with a loaded firearm en route to rob a drug customer who owed him money from a prior drug deal.
As part of the government's investigation of the syndicate, in separate incidents law enforcement seized:
- 943 pounds of marijuana imported from Mexico;
- $209,000 in drug proceeds being transported to Mexico;
- $140,000 in drug proceeds intended to be used as a down payment for a 200-kilogram cocaine deal;
- 20 pounds of marijuana during a car stop in Dutchess County;
- 290 pounds of marijuana from a Brooklyn warehouse operated by syndicate associates;
- $1,271,394 in drug proceeds in Manhattan;
- 24 kilograms of liquid cocaine in Lima, Peru;
- 20 pounds of marijuana during a car stop in New Jersey;
- A loaded handgun and $29,000 in drug proceeds from a residence in the Bronx;
- $180,000 in drug proceeds in Manhattan;
- A loaded firearm from a syndicate member in Yonkers, New York;
- More than 150 marijuana plants from grow houses in Georgia and Florida operated by syndicate associates;
- $1,041,990 in drug proceeds in Boston;
- $155,000 in drug proceeds from a syndicate member in the Bronx, New York;
- $497,955 in drug proceeds in California;
- 160 pounds of marijuana from a Brooklyn warehouse operated by syndicate associates;
- $672,755 in drug proceeds in Los Angeles;
- $210,280 in drug proceeds, 1 kilogram of cocaine and numerous firearms from a stash house in California operated by syndicate associates;
- 70 pounds of marijuana from a tractor trailer being driven from Toronto, Canada;
- 30 pounds of marijuana during a car stop in New Jersey;
- $300,000 in drug proceeds on Long Island; and
- 70 pounds of marijuana from a tractor trailer being driven from Vancouver, Canada.
If convicted, the three alleged leaders of the syndicate, Gjavit Thaqi, Arif Kurti and Gjevelin Berisha, charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise and using firearms in furtherance of their drug trafficking crimes, face a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The other defendants involved face sentences ranging from a minimum of 10 years imprisonment to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.