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2004 National HIDTA Program Award

Los Angeles HIDTA - Southern California Drug Task Force - Group 44 - "Operation Trifecta"

This narrative concerns the Los Angeles segment of Operation TRIFECTA, a national and international investigation coordinated by DEA's Special Operations Division and involving activities in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago and various cities in Mexico. The targets were three cells connected to the ZAMBADA-GARCIA drug trafficking cartel based in Mexico. An investigation against a fourth cell is currently being conducted based on intelligence and informants developed from the first three cases.

A search warrant conducted in Los Angeles in March 2002 and another one in November provided evidence that the AVENDANO Organization was active in the Los Angeles area. By January 2003 Group 44 had developed sufficient probable cause to allow the initiation of wire intercepts on various members of the organization.

Group 44 conducted 75 wiretaps over the next seventeen months, spinning off to new targets as the opportunity arose. Information gained from the wiretaps provided the probable cause for two border searches, 23 state and federal search warrants and ten traffic stops, all resulting in arrests and seizures. Group 44 did an outstanding job of overseeing and coordinating the enforcement activities of several other law enforcement agencies to include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, the Kern County Sheriffs Department, the LAPD and police departments from Los Angeles suburbs of Inglewood, Pomona, El Monte, Pasadena, Santa Ana and Glendale. Two additional LAHIDTA funded task forces, LA-IMPACT and LA-CLEAR also provided support to Group
44. The level of cooperation received from all of these agencies was extraordinary. Group 44 also coordinated with offices across the U.S. in seeking the highest possible level of development of this case. Connections to Atlanta, Phoenix and Denver were shared with DEA offices in those cities. Information given to DEA offices in San Jose, California and Fayetteville, Arkansas allowed those offices to start intercepting telephones in their respective areas, resulting in seizures and arrests. In April 2003 Group 44 provided information to DEA Columbus, Ohio concerning a delivery of marijuana to the area. DEA Columbus seized 128 pounds of marijuana and arrested two suspects. Group 44 also developed information about a distributor in Cincinnati, Ohio who was working for their main target. Using information from Group 44's wiretap, DEA Cincinnati was initiated its own wiretap, resulting in seizures of $81,800 in Cincinnati and $206,000 in Oklahoma and important intelligence about money flows as well.

Group 44 did an extraordinary amount of work that led to extraordinary accomplishments. In total 95 arrests were made; and 1,313 pounds of cocaine, 5,789 pounds of marijuana, 76 pounds of methamphetamine, 5.4 pounds of heroin, $4.4 million in cash and assets and numerous firearms were seized.

This long-term investigation targeted an arm of one of the wealthiest and most successful Mexican cocaine cartels in operation the ZAMBADA-GARCIA Organization. Two major figures in the cartel are currently the subjects of international arrest warrants, thus inhibiting their ability to travel, and three drug trafficking cells run by the organization have been dismantled.

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Last Updated: February 7, 2005