Nevada's Largest Drug Bust - 8 News NOW

Brian Allen, Reporter

Nevada's Largest Drug Bust

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Confiscated marijuana Confiscated marijuana
Confiscated marijuana Confiscated marijuana

(May 4) -- A little more than a year ago, a Las Vegas drug kingpin walked into a trap. His empire stretched from New York to Las Vegas, from Canada to Mexico.

He bragged he could get his customers any drug from any where at any time. But last year his time ran out. Metro police and the FBI have never talked about this investigation until now.

A year's worth of work boiled down to one moment. Metro's swat team, guns drawn, brought down drug kingpin Charles Chelli a year ago. Eyewitness News got the secret details of the sting. Chelli's empire unraveled in spring of 2003, when undercover Metro detective Chad made a large drug buy.

"They had proceeded to California and then in California they had a connect in Mexico and they were bringing it through underground tunnels that they were getting the 2,600 pounds," said Chad, an undercover Metro detective.

The 2,600 pounds of high grade marijuana had a street value of $8.5 million -- more than enough for a federal conviction "if" the bust went down. The night of April 4, 2003, undercover Metro detectives Chad and Jeff were waiting at the drop off location: a Henderson warehouse.

"It has to be somewhere that's going to be enclosed where the public doesn't have any view or any danger is going to come to the public," said Jeff, Metro undercover detective.

The operation took four minutes. Chelli and his entourage arrived never knowing their every move was being secretly recorded by a camera perched atop a fake wall. On the other side of the wall is Metro's SWAT team.

FBI agent Todd Palmer was safety coordinator for the bust. "You're putting them in a position you're not putting yourself in and for me that's very tense."

Metro's SWAT team, using a diversion device, come swarming through the fake wall. Taking Chelli and three henchmen into custody to the relief of Metro detective Chad.

"It was kind of stressful dealing with them," Chad said. For investigators the surprises didn't end with the bust. Information gained from Chelli showed his customer base in the valley was far beyond what they anticipated or imagined.

"Once we realized the scope of this organization we had to neck ourselves in. It was just too big to chase every person that was out there," Palmer said.

Charles Chelli has pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges. He's looking at 15 years behind bars. His Las Vegas cartel is in shambles. Of his associates who remain on the streets, they're seen as outcasts by other drug dealers who fear they too will get caught in a sting.

The Chelli drug bust is the largest marijuana bust in Nevada history. Federal indictments are pending against 17 of Chelli's associates throughout the United States. Another 100 people are under investigation nationwide for involvement in Chelli's organization.

Tonight at 5, an in-depth look at the Chelli cartel, and why it had authorities so concerned.

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