The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces program was established in 1982 as a means to combat increasingly organized drug traffickers.
The OCDETF program is an unusually broad coalition that, as noted by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “brings together just about every federal law enforcement agency there is. It’s the Swiss Army knife of law enforcement.”
“MS-13 sells drugs, but they are not primarily a drug-trafficking organization. I have ordered OCDETF to prioritize MS-13 not because of their drug trafficking—but because OCDETF is such a powerful weapon.
“OCDETF is able to hit MS-13 from all angles.”
Hezbollah InvestigationBut Ohr’s troubles don’t end there. Fox News confirmed in January 2018 that Ohr, “as the head of OCDETF, was directly involved with Project Cassandra, the interagency investigation spearheaded by the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] that tracked a massive international drug and money-laundering scheme allegedly run by Hezbollah.”
Begun in 2008, after the DEA amassed evidence that Hezbollah was engaging in drugs and weapons trafficking, along with other crimes, the investigation traced its way to the “innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.” According to the Politico report, “Hezbollah’s network moved metric ton quantities of cocaine [to] launder drug proceeds on a global scale, and procure weapons and ... explosives.”
It was at this point that roadblocks began to appear:
“As Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way. ... When Project Cassandra leaders sought approval for some significant investigations, prosecutions, arrests, and financial sanctions, officials at the Justice and Treasury departments delayed, hindered or rejected their requests.”
“Under the Obama administration ... these [Hezbollah-related] investigations were tamped down, for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.”
“While I am hopeful that there were no barriers constructed by the last administration to allowing DEA agents to fully bring all appropriate cases under Project Cassandra, this is a significant issue for the protection of Americans. We will review these matters and give full support to investigations of violent drug-trafficking organizations.”
“HFNT prosecutors and investigators are tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases. The HFNT will begin by assessing the evidence in existing investigations, including cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a law enforcement initiative targeting Hezbollah’s drug trafficking and related operations.”
“In an effort to protect Americans from both threats, the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors to ensure that all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution. The team will initiate prosecutions that will restrict the flow of money to foreign terrorist organizations as well as disrupt violent international drug-trafficking operations.”
• Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, or CJNG
• the Sinaloa Cartel
• Clan del Golfo
• Lebanese Hezbollah
Sessions selected the five groups based on recommendations he received from the FBI, DEA, OCDETF, and the DOJ’s Criminal Division.
Sessions singled out Hezbollah for additional focus in his discussion and specifically noted the previously created HFNT task force:
“The subcommittee on Lebanese Hezbollah will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilan Graff of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. AUSA Graff is overseeing the prosecution of two alleged members of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization, the first such operatives to be charged with terrorism offenses in the United States.
“This subcommittee will be led and staffed by members of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team, which is a group I created in January.
“This team is composed of experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money-laundering prosecutors who are tasked with investigating individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah.”
Rosenstein Takes OverSessions had, to this point, been the man directing the OCDETF’s efforts. Concurrent with his Oct. 15th announcement, Sessions appointed Rosenstein to lead the new transnational task force and direct OCDETF’s actions. Working underneath Rosenstein are separate subcommittees for each of the target groups, each led by an experienced prosecutor.
This was a major assignment, given the priority that President Donald Trump has given to the topic. It also appeared to indicate a shifting of responsibility as Sessions had previously been leading the prosecutorial effort on MS-13. Notably, the appointment occurred after Trump’s Oct. 8 affirmation of Rosenstein, following their meeting on Air Force One.
Targeting Mexican Drug CartelsMeanwhile, efforts by the OCDETF continue. Immediately following Sessions’s October press conference, 15 indictments, along with new measures aimed at destroying the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, were unveiled Oct. 16, 2018.
“In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez was personally working with the then-Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah on drug trafficking and other activities aimed at undermining U.S. influence in the region, according to interviews and documents.
Other Key InvestigationsOn Dec. 4, 2018, U.S. prosecutors announced criminal charges against four people, including a former lawyer for Mossack Fonseca, the firm highlighted by the leak of the Panama Papers. The leak included 11.5 million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, then the world’s fourth-biggest provider of offshore services, that detailed secret, offshore accounts.
The four men, three of whom have been arrested, have been charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion and money laundering. The DOJ release notes the following:
“For decades, the defendants, employees and a client of global law firm Mossack Fonseca allegedly shuffled millions of dollars through offshore accounts and created shell companies to hide fortunes. In fact, as alleged, they had a playbook to repatriate un-taxed money into the U.S. banking system. Now, their international tax scheme is over, and these defendants face years in prison for their crimes.”
Mueller had previously referred both cases to the Southern District of New York as they fell outside of the scope of his investigation, but news regarding both cases has become limited in recent months.
According to AP, DOJ prosecutors had begun the process of interviewing witnesses and reportedly contacted lawyers to schedule new questioning relating to both companies.
Alexander Downer, the Australian diplomat who met with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in London, was a board member of Huawei until 2014, when he accepted the top diplomat post to London.
According to court filings, “from January 2013 until February 2017, Veytia used his official position as State Attorney General to assist and abet drug-trafficking organizations operating in the Mexican State of Nayarit in exchange for bribes.”
“He told the jurors stories not only about the drug lord’s operations in Mexico, Honduras, and Belize, but also about his suppliers, distributors, bodyguards, assassins, cousins, brothers, and sons.
“He also said that his father routinely bribed a military officer who once served as a personal guard to Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox.”
“Mr. Guzmán made an astonishing proposal: He offered to reach out to his ‘contacts’ in the Drug Enforcement Administration and see if they would meet with the young man.
“American authorities have acknowledged that within two years of floating the idea of leaving the cartel, Mr. Zambada sat down with agents from the D.E.A. at a clandestine meeting in Mexico.”
Although details remain murky, in 2011, Zambada’s lawyer presented his version of events, noting, “the United States government entered into a conspiracy with one of the largest drug cartels in the world.”
These streams of indictments, although seemingly unrelated, are linked through commonalities in the borderless drug trade and money-laundering operations.
Hopefully, someone is asking Bruce Ohr some hard questions concerning Project Cassandra, the international drug trade, and U.S. government involvement during the Obama administration.