Federal agents dismantle major cocaine operation that stretched from Mexico to Pittsburgh

Major cocaine operation from Mexico to Pittsburgh results in 27 federal indictments

PITTSBURGH — A two-year undercover investigation culminated Friday with 27 federal indictments and the dismantling of a major international distribution network that stretched from Mexico to the streets of Pittsburgh.

Federal agents launched “Operation Tripwire” after a special agent with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General noticed a large number of packages coming to a Pittsburgh address from California.

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Ken Cleevely, special agent in charge, said he developed sufficient evidence to obtain a federal search warrant, opened the parcel and found it contained four kilograms (about 8.8 pounds) of cocaine. Agents eventually traced the drugs to a Mexican cartel.

“We were intercepting calls to and from the people in the United States, directly to Mexico and the Sinoloa Cartel,” said U.S. Attorney of Western Pa. Scott Brady.

Investigators said the cartel smuggled the cocaine into the U.S. -- to Arizona and California first and then to Pittsburgh. Brady said the cartel would use commercial airplanes, underground tunnels, trucks and other forms of transportation to get across the border.

Three years ago, Target 11 traveled to the Mexican border to investigate the drug pipeline to Pittsburgh. Agents showed us how they search for drugs at border checkpoints.

During Operation Tripwire, agents seized over 90 kilograms of cocaine and $1.3 million in cash. That amount of cocaine is worth about $2.7 million on the street.

On Wednesday, federal agents raided homes in three states and arrested 27 members of the cartel’s distribution network: 11 in California, six in Arizona and 10 in Pittsburgh.

“We took down an entire network that spanned the country and was bringing poison into our communities. So, it was a great day for Pittsburgh and a great day for the good guys,” Brady said.

Brady said they are still working to identify cartel members in Mexico, but the ultimate goal is to track them down and bring them to Pittsburgh to face charges.

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