US bust global drug, money-laundering hub in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday that they dismantled a key international cocaine and money-laundering hub in an ongoing investigation that began six years ago in Las Vegas and has involved more than 30 other countries.

The top federal prosecutor and the FBI chief in Las Vegas told reporters that the probe became public after the recent arrests of six people in Nevada, Arizona, California and Washington state on conspiracy, drug and money-laundering charges.

Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Chiou and Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas office, were flanked by representatives of law enforcement agencies in Australia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Israel, Romania and United Kingdom.

Rouse said the case did not arise from a casino-related investigation.

The FBI chief said millions of dollars were involved, but he wouldn’t specify an amount.

He characterized the conspiracy as a “cog” in a drugs-and-money operation supporting “trans-national” criminal organizations that he said will be crippled by the six arrests and “dozens” of others in other places in the six-year operation dubbed “Operation Money Maker.” Rouse declined to provide exact numbers, places or details of those cases.

“Take the cog out, the spokes fall,” he said. “Their hub is gone.”

Chiou said two of the six people named in separate indictments being unsealed are Las Vegas residents. Others are from Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix and San Jose, California.

The five men and one woman range in age from 31 to 51. Each will be prosecuted in Las Vegas, Chiou said. Each is a U.S. citizen and faces a conspiracy charge.

Three face additional drug distribution charges and four of the six are accused of money laundering. Each could face decades in prison if convicted.

Records of five cases were not immediately accessible in the U.S. District Court public record.