United States authorities bust multimillion dollar drug ring in New Jersey

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Officials from the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) have arrested seven members of a drug trafficking and money laundering operation based in Manalapan, New Jersey. The arrests follow a joint investigation between the DEA and the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, dubbed "Operation Unbounded", which ran for 14 months following a tip-off received by the DEA about a drug ring running out of the "quiet suburbia" of Manalapan.

According to Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin, the drugs were smuggled into the country on commercial flights from countries including Mexico and Colombia, and delivered via ground transport to New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and elsewhere in the United States. Authorities believe the operation was headed by Vicente Esteves, 35, and his wife Chantal, 30. The couple has been arrested and is being held in the Monmouth County Jail in Freehold. Mr. Esteves's bail is currently set at US$10 million, and his wife's at US$5 million.

Gerard McAleer, special agent in charge of the DEA's New Jersey division, compared the Esteves's opulent lifestyle to that in the movie Scarface. In their multi-million dollar Manalapan home, McAleer noted, were "walk-in closets where there were 100 pairs of Prada shoes, still in the boxes."

According to New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger, the operation transported more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine and earned its operators US$1 million per month, while the Associated Press puts the figure at US$1 million per week. Authorities arrested one of the seven defendants boarding a commercial flight from Newark to Miami in possession of US$100,000, and have since seized cocaine with a street value of US$2 million, and US$2 million in cash.