DEA agent
© Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images
The Trump administration announced a counternarcotics operation in early April, choking off the drug supply chain flowing from Latin America, and now law enforcement officials are choking off drug cartels' cash flow in the U.S.

"It's really around April, where we started saying, 'Hey, we're having a lot more success in this area,'" New York Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge Ray Donovan told NBC News.

"With all the stores and shops closed down here, they don't have that as one of the means to quickly launder money."

With businesses shutdown in the major coastal cities where drug trade had boomed, laundering money through other business transactions have been made more difficult for the smugglers, leaving piles of cash easier for law enforcement to home in on, officials told NBC News.

"Their activities are a lot more apparent than they were three months ago," Los Angeles DEA special agent in charge Bill Bodner told NBC News.

"When there's less hay in the haystack, it's easier to find the needle. It's caused the drug cartels and money launderers to take more risks, and that's where we can capitalize."

The drug seizures have more than doubled from $4.5 million to $10 million year over year, including four separate busts exceeding $1 million in California's Long Beach, Cerritos, Anaheim, and Wildomar, according to Bodner.

The two cities of L.A. and New York had been drug smuggling hotbeds. On the West coast, Mexican cartels use manufacturing businesses "as de facto banks" to launder drug profits and send them back across the southern border, which Mexico and the Trump administration have effectively closed down amid the pandemic.

In N.Y., cartels lean on "international Asian criminal organizations" to smuggle cash, according to Donovan. The cartels will buy goods from China with American money and ship them back. Then, smugglers in China send the money to the cartels in Mexico through bank wires more difficult for the U.S. to trace in China, according to the report.

The piling up of cash because of choked off trade and shipping has created larger busts, according to N.Y.'s Donovan.

"More money is being stockpiled here," Donovan told NBC News. "So when we come across them, instead of seizing $100,000, we seize $1 million or several million dollars."

There are large seizures of drugs, too, including in Detroit, where 2,856 pounds of marijuana, 87 pounds of cocaine, 12 pounds of fentanyl, and 12 guns have been seized from March 21 to May 16, according to the report.

"We are definitely seeing an uptick," U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Detroit spokesman Kris Grogan told NBC News.

With cartels on high alert and losing tens of millions, the cost of doing business is raising the cost of drugs on the street, too, per the report.
  • L.A. methamphetamine doubled from $1,000 per pound from November to $2,000.
  • N.Y. marijuana is up 55%.
  • N.Y. cocaine is up 12%.
  • N.Y. heroin us up 7%.