Nevada's Largest Drug Bust - Part 2 - 8 News NOW

Brian Allen, Reporter

Nevada's Largest Drug Bust - Part 2

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James Raymundo James Raymundo
Charles Chelli Charles Chelli

(May 4) -- An international drug cartel based right here in Las Vegas was dismantled in a massive investigation that was two years in the making. The cartel was headed up by two men barely in their 30's. Police and FBI caught them in an elaborate sting in a Henderson warehouse.

There's a reason this investigation spanned an 11-month time period. This wasn't a run of the mill, small-time drug operation. It was complex, involving many different people. Eyewitness News will explain how the cartel worked and how a mistake led authorities to conduct one of the largest investigations in Nevada history.

Our story ends with one of the largest drug busts in Nevada history; Metro's SWAT team coming literally out of nowhere, and the man at the center of the case being handcuffed on the cold floor of a warehouse in Henderson.

It begins 6 years ago in New York with a man named Charles Chelli. Then 22 years old, Chelli moved to Las Vegas with his parents, immersing himself in the nightclub scene. Chelli wanted to be a kingpin and would be.

Chad: "Heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine -- whatever we wanted we could have gotten." Chad is an undercover Metro detective.

In May of 2002 he met Charles Chelli and gained his trust. Initially learning Chelli was a major player in the local drug scene.

Chad, Metro detective: "Twenty minutes or less was their motto. They could get you dope in 20 minutes or less."

Chelli had a network of marijuana growhouses around the Valley, each unaware of the other to prevent squealing in case of a bust. What Metro investigator Chad and his partner Jeff would learn next would leave them in disbelief.

Jeff, Metro detective: "I was like no way! There is no way these guys could deal in what they say they could deal in."

What Chelli told them, and what their investigation would later confirm, was the existence of a larger drug organization -- stretching from New York to Las Vegas, involving smugglers from Canada and Mexico. Chelli could deliver "any" drug in "any" amount.

Jeff, Metro detective: "When we saw the magnitude of what they could do what they were capable of doing things they've done in the past, yeah we wanted to get them."

Chelli headed up the cartel; bringing it down would mean getting Chelli. Metro took its evidence to the FBI. 

Todd Palmer, FBI: "It was all about money to them and they had a myriad of ways out there to collect that money."

Agent Palmer came on board the investigation and found it would be difficult. Chelli and his number-two man, James Raymundo, had researched state and federal law learning which drug amounts carried prison sentences and what investigators legally could and could not do.

Todd Palmer, FBI: "They're no dummies. They're very smart. They pride themselves in trying to beat law enforcement."

To get Chelli, they would have to set a trap and catch him with a large amount of drugs. Undercover Metro detective Chad made the deal: "These guys were going to get the 2600 hundred pounds of marijuana we ordered."

And in April of 2003, Charles Chelli walked into a trap, it snapped and a cartel came tumbling down.

According to the FBI, Charles Chelli has pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges. He's looking at 15 years behind bars for his criminal activity.

Question: How is it the cartel was able to be so successful in Las Vegas?

Eyewitness News reporter:  "It catered to primarily two groups: the rich and the young. The FBI says their investigation showed the cartel had a surprising number of high-income clients, as well as young clients who had disposable income to spend on drugs.

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