Nine suspected members of the Central Florida ring were recently charged by federal prosecutors in Orlando as part of a complex investigation that spanned to Texas and involved multiple federal and local law-enforcement agencies.
Investigators executed search warrants throughout Florida and in Texas, and seized more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana, more than 90 firearms and cash.
An 81-page criminal complaint filed in the case details much of the group's suspected activities, including previous interactions with law enforcement.
The case, in some ways, is a textbook example of what's happening in the American drug trade, said Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America," which will be published in October.
"I wouldn't find this incident unusual at all," Carpenter said. "The Mexican cartels have connections with domestic trafficking gangs.
"Their tentacles are quite extensive in the United States."
In the Central Florida ring, agents say, marijuana was shipped in bulk from a trafficker in McAllen, Texas, to Panama City then picked up and brought to Central Florida or Jacksonville for distribution.
After the marijuana was sold locally, the cash was picked up and taken back on the same route, to Panama City and then to Texas.
Once the cash made it to Panama City in the Florida Panhandle, a new load of marijuana was picked up for distribution, and the cycle continued.
Court documents detail the roles of each of the suspected Central Florida ring members. Some were organizers, some were drivers, and others were involved with offloading and delivery.
Sources told agents each shipment of marijuana produced $800,000 to $1 million in proceeds.
The group buried the cash on various properties until it was ready to be shipped back to Texas.
It may seem a risky way to store millions, but Carpenter said it's not surprising.
Unlike legal businesses, drug traffickers can't simply deposit their revenue into a bank account.
"You can't just walk into a Bank of America … and deposit $80,000 in cash," Carpenter said. "That would ring alarm bells all over the place."
Source: Orlando Sentinel