INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Five tons of marijuana worth $5 million and $4.3 million in cash were seized as the result of a 6-month long investigation that is being called Indiana's largest drug bust in history.
U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett announced the bust and the arrests of four suspects Monday, after federal agents and IMPD officers found bales of marijuana in a west side warehouse last week.
The seized drugs carry a bulk value of $5 million but, Hogsett said, the street value could be worth up to $50 million.
Hogsett said investigators believe the cash was on its way to a Mexican drug cartel and the pot was ready to hit the streets.
"The DEA and Metro Drug made history last week," Hogsett said. "Not only will taking these drugs off of the streets have a profound direct effect on this community, I am also proud to announce that the millions in cash taken from the Mexican drug lords will help fund public safety efforts in Indianapolis and throughout central Indiana for years to come."
The investigation began back in March when the DEA and Metro Drug taskforce began investigating marijuana trafficking operations being coordinated out of a west side Mexican grocery store.
A search of a tractor trailer leaving the store yielded the seizure of $2.6 million that fell from a false roof in the trailer.
A traffic stop in Arkansas, combined with information gathered in the previous raids, led investigators to 26-year-old Jairo Ramierez. Surveillance of his activities showed he was repeatedly meeting with Efren Perez, 20, and Julio Cesar Castaneda, 36.
Police discovered Perez and Castaneda were frequently visiting a west side warehouse. Officers then watched the warehouse around the clock for a week.
Then, on Oct. 17, agents watched as the two men left the warehouse. Armed with a search warrant, agents went into the warehouse where they found five metal shipping containers completely filled with packaged marijuana.
Agents then left the facility and continued to watch the traffic in and out of the building.
Officers then observed a van leaving the building with its lights off. Officers stopped the van and identified the driver as Tomas Toledo, 29. A search of the van turned up 600 pounds of marijuana inside.
Fifteen minutes later officers located and arrested Castaneda, Perez and Ramirez.
Ramirez, Perez, Castaneda and Toledo are all facing charges stemming from a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distributing 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana. Castaneda and Toledo were also identified as being illegally inside the country.
"Our office will vigorously prosecute these defendants based on the evidence presented," Hogsett noted. "These arrests reinforce our office's commitment to pursuing real results in our fight against violent crime and drug trafficking. No slogans. No meetings. Just results."
The suspects face a minimum of 10 years behind bars if convicted.
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