Nineteen people have been arrested and now face federal drug charges after drug agents stormed an East Austin paint and body shop this morning, which they say was the hub of an international drug ring.
Drug agents swept through G.R. Custom Body and Paint Shop on East Cesar Chavez this morning, said Robert Pitman, a United States Attorney of the Western District. The three bays that used to be the business are now left abandoned.
Drug agents say the shop served as the primary distribution for multiple sources of cocaine smuggled into the United States from Mexico, which investigators believe stems back to 2009. Agents have seized roughly 120 pounds of cocaine and more than one million dollars they believe to be involved in the ring.
“It represents, we believe, the dismantling of a major cocaine trafficking organization responsible for the distribution of thousands of kilograms of cocaine in our community,” Pitman said. “This was the hub of the operation. Investigators say the cocaine would come across from Mexico to this warehouse, then be sent across Texas and the Deep South."
Authorities believe that in addition to distributing cocaine throughout Texas, the shop served to traffic drugs to at least six states.
Federal investigators say it took the cooperation of federal, state and local enforcement to make the bust. They are certain the arrests have crippled a major drug ring that has brought its share of crime to the U.S., and has also had an impact on the violence and terror in Mexico, Pitman said.
Kris Bailey, who owns a business just across the street from the former drug hub, has noticed a dramatic increase in police presence within the past couple months and hopes his neighboring businesses will unite to prevent another crime ring from taking hold.
“We have been enduring a lot of crime in this area. It's very frustrating for us," he said. “It's difficult to develop a sense of partnership in this area with your neighbors. As it is a warehouse district or commercial district, the connection really isn't there yet."
If convicted on the drug charges, the 19 suspects face between 10 years and life in prison. The money smuggling charge carries up to five years in prison.