MILWAUKEE (AP) — Two dozen people are facing federal charges after authorities uncovered an extensive drug and gambling ring that spread across five U.S. states and Canada, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
More than $1.3 million in cash, along with marijuana, jewelry, guns and several vehicles, were seized during an investigation that spanned Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, California and Illinois, said James Santelle, the U.S. Attorney for eastern Wisconsin.
Hundreds of pounds of marijuana were transported from suppliers in Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, to Minnesota, southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Santelle said. Couriers also transported cash, including illegal gambling proceeds, back to the marijuana suppliers.
Investigators said 20 men and three women were arrested May 24 on charges ranging from conspiracy to racketeering. The suspects range in age from 25 to 61. The last suspect, a Los Angeles man, remains at large.
The indictment was unsealed Thursday but handed down May 17.
“We did some great work up here and we want to assure we are going to follow these leads where ever they take to us, whether it be to our foreign partners or to other states that previously hadn’t been involved,” Jack Riley, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, said at the news conference, flanked by Milwaukee police, federal investigators and others.
Riley said he’s seen a trend of marijuana coming out of British Columbia over the last several years that is more potent and more expensive. He said law enforcement appears to be making progress because prices have skyrocketed in parts of the five states he oversees.
Santelle said law enforcement got a tip about a year ago out of Washington that led to the investigation, which also included a sports betting operation that generated tens of thousands of dollars weekly in Wisconsin and Illinois.
The group used text messages to send odds on sporting events and bets were placed within minutes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Sanders, who is prosecuting the case. Santelle said the gambling case was the first of its size in decades out of his office and it likely won’t be the last.
Also seized were about 25 pounds of marijuana, marijuana packaging materials, drug trafficking and gambling ledgers, and a bullet proof vest, Santelle said.
Seventeen people were charged with conspiring to possess with the intent to district more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. Seven of those and six more were charged with operating an illegal gambling business. Two men were charged with interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise.
None of the suspects was singled out as leading the operation in the indictment, which offered few specifics.
Riley, who has worked in drug enforcement for 25 years, said he hasn’t seen cooperation work as well as it did in this effort.
“You can feel real good about the people that are out there day in and day out risking their lives because they are really are committed to making things happen and this is a great example,” Riley said.
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