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Colorado DEA working to stop money flow of cartels from drug trafficking of fentanyl

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- The Rocky Mountain Division of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has announced an operation targeting the money proceeds of cartel activity, specifically the trafficking of fentanyl in Colorado. The effort, called "Operation Cash Out," aims to stop the supply of drug money through financial institutions back to countries like Mexico, where the base of the cartels is located.

"The number one thing is they're out to make money and fentanyl is so profitable a product," Rocky Mountain DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge, David Olesky said. "We contacted just this week alone close to 200 money service businesses."

The DEA says the bank of Mexico, Banixico, has reported more than $63 billion in remittances were sent to Mexico in 2023. More than 96% of the money arriving in Mexico was sent from the United States.

"Both as a society, as law enforcement and outreach, we're seeking partners in that financial world to help combat the cartels," Olesky said.

According to the DEA, the two major cartels operating in the U.S., and Colorado more specifically, are the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels. The DEA says they are now looking at curbing their influence on the supply of fentanyl in Colorado.

"The cartels are going to take advantage of every kind of opportunity to launder their money. For one thing, it's greed. It's to move money, making billions of dollars," Olesky said.

In 2023, the Rocky Mountain Division of the DEA says they seized over 2.6 million fentanyl pills. As of March 2024, they have seized nearly half that amount, prompting them to take more steps to curb the spread of a drug that can kill a person with an amount on the tip of a pencil.

"We continue to see year over year more than 100,000 Americans dying as a result of, we say, drug poisonings, not necessarily not overdoses, because so many folks don't know what they're taking," Olesky said. "It's an all hands on deck approach because sadly, too many American lives are being lost."

The DEA says these money service businesses are often unknowingly allowing the cartels to send their drug proceeds to countries like Mexico, and often stopping at two or three locations throughout a day and sending lower quantities of money, like $5,000 at a time, back to where the fentanyl is being produced.

"What we're looking for through this outreach effort is folks who are in compliance at banks, folks who are the clerks, you might be at a King Soopers or Safeway running money service businesses, all of these folks who are providing the legitimate service are taken advantage of by the cartels," Olesky said.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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