The FBI has arrested an alleged, major cocaine trafficker tied to an underworld operation that hired privately chartered jets to fly Duffel bags stuffed with cash from New York to Southern California.
Based on surveillance and the results of search warrants, agents took Canoga Park-resident Atta Arab, 50, into custody late last month and charged him with conspiracy to possess and distribute massive quantities of the drug in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, Assistant United States Attorney Joseph T. McNally said Arab is a flight risk and will remain locked up until his case is resolved.
Though the conspirators took counter-surveillance measures and telephonic security steps to evade detection, a 2011 tip to the FBI about the flights launched a federally-funded, joint task force probe that included the Drug Enforcement Administration, Orange County Sheriff's Department and Santa Ana Police Department.
According to the FBI, agents tracked John Vrahnos's flight from New York to Chino Airport and eventually to a Starbucks in Anaheim Hills where he delivered the Duffel bags carrying approximately $617,000 to Arab.
Agents tailed an oblivious Arab to a Glendale residence near Griffith Park and then to his home, where a raid recovered the cash, detailed drug deal notes, currency counter, heat-sealer, digital scales, 50 cell phones and multiple Blackberry devices, according to the FBI.
Data on the phones allowed agents to easily break codes allegedly used by the dealers. For example, one message included scrambled letters that equated to numbers 0 to 9, and was used to communicate a Los Angeles-area telephone number to be used for the trafficking.
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The information also advised the FBI about the cocaine's market price (about $22,000 per kilogram), quality (excellent, between 90 and 92 percent pure) and texture ("shiny" and "flakey").
According to federal records, no other individuals named in agency notes have been arrested in the probe, but McNally said the investigation is ongoing.