CENTRAL FLORIDA,None - A number of police agencies, including the FBI, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Osceola and Seminole County Sheriff’s Offices served search warrants at homes in Central Florida Tuesday morning as part of an investigation into a large-scale Mexican marijuana distribution ring dubbed the "Gulf Cartel," according to authorities.
WFTV was on the scene at 3211 Silver Lake Court, Kissimmee while agents from several agencies took evidence, including cars and motorcycles from the property. Some forensic investigators were seen on the property carrying shovels brought to dig for money reportedly buried in the yard.
“It looked like a movie scene. I mean, the whole street was full of police cars. There was, like, an FBI tank in front of the house,” said a neighbor.
Federal prosecutors said the Gulf Cartel shipped thousands of pounds of marijuana, with each monthly shipment worth as much as $1 million.
The drugs came in from Mexico through McAllen, Texas, a city about half the size of Orlando, agents said. Then, the drugs were shipped to Panama City, Fla., and then to the six homes raided in Orange, Lake and Osceola counties.
Agents searched homes in Orlando, Apopka, Sorrento and Kissimmee and arrested a number of people.
In an 82-page report, investigators said the suspects buried cash in the yard until it could be moved back to Texas.
The nine suspects operated undercover, and investigators are now checking whether their immigration status was illegal.
A source told investigators that at one point, the Gulf Cartel had $2 million buried in Florida while they waited to move the money to Texas.
A cartel member is quoted as saying, "They send you 2,000 pounds. That's $1 million you have to unload."
Nine people were named in a criminal complaint filed in Federal Court on Monday. All are charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.
Five of those named were in Federal Court on Tuesday afternoon. All face a minimum of 10 years in prison.