Authorities have seized more than five tons of marijuana and about $4.3 million during a seven-month investigation that resulted in what they believe is Indiana's biggest drug bust ever.
A team of federal agents and city police officers found dozens of bales of wrapped marijuana at a warehouse on the west side of Indianapolis last week after an investigation that started in March, when officers found about $2.6 million inside a hidden compartment of a semitrailer.
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said investigators believe the cash was on its way to a Mexican drug cartel while the seized marijuana had a bulk value of about $5 million — and a street value potentially 10 times more.
"This was significant because we got them both coming and going," Hogsett told The Indianapolis Star. "The money was going, and we interdicted the drugs that were coming."
Four men are jailed on federal drug charges in connection with the bust.
Although there have been larger drug busts in the nation — including 25 tons of marijuana seized in a New York home in 2009 — Dennis Wishern, the Drug Enforcement Administration's assistant special agent in charge in Indianapolis, said he knew of no larger seizures in Indiana.
The driver of the semi with the hidden cash, which was vacuum-sealed and wrapped in dryer sheets and carbon paper, told police he'd been hired in a Mexican border town to drive to Indianapolis, collect money and return it to McAllen, Texas.
He told police the money had been given to him outside the grocery store by a Hispanic man driving a black H3 Hummer, but investigators say they weren't able to pin down a suspect until an Arkansas state trooper stopped a pickup with more than $580,000 hidden inside, all wrapped identically to the cash seized in Indiana in March.
That led drug agents to the Indianapolis warehouse, where they found the marijuana wrapped in green plastic, as well as hundreds of boxes of powdered detergent, which traffickers use to mask the scent.
Authorities say agents later found $1.1 million more at the home of one of the men they arrested and at another residence. At least two of the men they arrested were in the country illegally.
Hogsett said the authorities delayed announcing the bust because local and federal agents were still investigating.
"I'd love it if this investigation could go straight back to Mexico and we could indict a member of the cartel," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said. "That would certainly be the goal."
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