ORANGE, Calif. -- Frustrated by the risks and costs of evading drug interdiction efforts, Colombian traffickers have developed a way to build plastic and fiberglass products out of cocaine, according to FBI officials who displayed a cocaine-infused dog kennel at a news conference yesterday.
That kennel and two others were seized during a 16-month investigation, and two men were arrested in nearby Garden Grove, Calif., Monday night. Agents said that the arrests and seizures thwarted the operation -- the first of its kind ever uncovered by federal drug agents -- and investigators quickly dubbed it the "Cocaine-Canine Connection" and the "Dog-Do Case."
The two suspects, Harold Satizabal and Luis Henry Bustos Delgado, were part of a drug-smuggling operation that mixed cocaine with fiberglass and other materials to build dog kennels and ship them to the United States, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Agents said they believe that Mr. Bustos is a chemist and Mr. Satizabal an engineer, and that both of the two men were working with the Cali Cartel, one of Colombia's most powerful drug-smuggling organizations.
The kennels were shipped from Cali, Colombia, to Los Angeles and are near-perfect replicas of commercial kennels made in the United States. The method of fusing cocaine into the fiberglass made the drug all but undetectable by traditional methods, officials said.
"This investigation demonstrates cocaine can be molded into any imaginable shape or form and shipped into any port in the United States," said Charlie J. Parsons, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office. "The case also demonstrates how sophisticated the cartels have become."
Drug agents, long accustomed to battling new techniques employed by traffickers, nonetheless were amazed by this latest approach.
Mr. Parsons and other FBI agents noted that the kennels do not merely conceal the cocaine, but actually are made out of the drug. Drug traffickers allegedly mixed cocaine paste, fiberglass and other agents to create a malleable substance that was then molded into kennels.
Once inside the United States, the kennels were stripped apart and ground into dust, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. That dust was then treated with acids, ammonia and other chemicals to remove the fiberglass and other substances. What was left is pure crack cocaine.
One small cage shipped in 1991 yielded more than three ounces of powder cocaine, while each of the two large cages seized by the FBI this week weighed about 50 pounds and yielded between 4.5 and 7 kilos of crack cocaine, officials said.