BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — An international drug ring that used containers labeled "sea cucumbers" to send millions of dollars' worth of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl to western New York via California and Mexico has been busted, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said 17 people have been indicted on federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges as part of the investigation dubbed "Operation Lockjaw."
The ring linked to Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel used front companies in California and the Buffalo area to smuggle narcotics on pallets of goods purporting to be sea cucumbers, used in Chinese cuisine, officials said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said the sting netted more than $2.5 million worth of illegal drugs, which included the equivalent of 1.5 million hits of cocaine and 2.7 million hits of heroin. The traffickers sent about $20 million from Buffalo-area banks to California in a one-year period, authorities said.
The drug ring turned the city of Buffalo into "ground zero" for fentanyl and heroin trafficking in New York, said James Hunt, DEA special agent in charge.
Prosecutors said the ring created fictitious food companies, including one in suburban Cheektowaga, to ship the drugs cross-country while hidden in containers sealed with foam or spray insulation to throw off law enforcement scrutiny.