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‘They want to hide in plain sight:’ Mexican drug cartels operating in metro Atlanta neighborhoods

ATLANTA — Mexican drug cartels are hiding in plain sight in neighborhoods like yours here in metro Atlanta.

Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston went with the Drug Enforcement Administration on an exclusive chopper tour of some big busts in some surprising locations.

They flew over multimillion dollar homes in north Fulton County and a meat packing plant in DeKalb County.

The head of Atlanta’s DEA told Huddleston in the 25 years he’s been fighting drugs, this is the worst he’s ever seen it.

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Only Channel 2 Action News got exclusive access to fly over metro Atlanta with the DEA and Special Agent in Charge Robert Murphy to show how the Mexican drug cartels are hiding in plain sight.

“We arrested 10 Mexican nationals, all members of the cartel,” said Murphy.

He showed Channel 2 some recent drug busts where the Mexican cartels set up conversion labs where methamphetamine is changed from liquid to crystals for sale.

They are in places you would least expect, like suburban subdivisions.

“They try to be good neighbors other than the fact that they’re making poison,” said Murphy.

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“Tell me about this neighborhood here,” said Huddleston during the chopper tour.

“This is a Forest Park neighborhood. We took a significant 600 kilos of methamphetamine and meth conversion lab out of this neighborhood,” said Murphy.

The DEA gave Channel 2 video of the drugs and equipment federal agents found inside that house.

Murphy said the really bad guys aren’t driving around in loud cars and flashing money. “They want to hide in plain sight, that’s the deal with the cartels,” said Murphy.

A woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told Huddleston she had no idea she lived near a meth conversion lab. “We didn’t know. We didn’t know how to react. We just didn’t know this was going on,” she said.

Murphy said there are five Mexican drug cartels operating in metro Atlanta right now.

“The same thing that makes Atlanta attractive to Fortune 500 companies is the same the Mexican cartel is looking for,” said Murphy.

Transportation is key. Huddleston flew over Interstate Highway 20.

Murphy told him the cartels use it to bring liquid meth made in Mexico to metro Atlanta where it is converted into crystals so it can be sold in Georgia, the East Coast, and the Midwest.

Channel 2 also got rare access to fly over Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport where smugglers fly back and forth from Mexico moving cash and smaller amounts of drugs.

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Milton in north Fulton County is one of metro Atlanta’s most desirable communities. “We’re in a multimillion dollar neighborhood,” said Murphy during the chopper tour.

He said one cartel set up a meth conversion lab in a rental home there. “We took 100 kilos of finished product of methamphetamine out of there and another 200 kilos of liquid waiting to be processed,” said Murphy.

“Everybody thinks, ‘It’s not in my neighborhood,” he continued.

They also flew over DeKalb County. “We’re right over the top of it,” said Murphy. The DEA busted a warehouse off Covington Highway.

Murphy said the cartel had teamed up with the Russian mafia to move meth in plain sight. “It’s an actual meat processing warehouse. It was run by Russian organized crime. It was a front for distribution of methamphetamine,” said Murphy.

Agents seized 5.5 kilos of crystal methamphetamine, oxycodone, MDMA pills, seven firearms, and $60,000 in cash.

The DEA successfully dismantled two drug cartels operating in metro Atlanta.

Murphy said his team will keep working to get rid of the remaining five. “We have the law on our side, and we have the will and we’re not going to stop,” said Murphy.

He told Huddleston the biggest obstacle the DEA faces is that Mexico is not a willing partner in fighting the cartels.

He said communication between cartel members in metro Atlanta and Mexico is their biggest weakness, and wiretaps are a big help in making busts.

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