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450 Pounds of Cocaine Seized; 5 Colombians Held : Narcotics: Value of drugs is estimated at more than $4 million. Federal agents say those arrested are linked to Cali cartel.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal agents in Orange and Los Angeles counties have seized 450 pounds of cocaine worth more than $4 million and arrested five Colombian nationals believed linked to a major drug cartel, authorities announced Monday.

“I think we put a dent in the Cali cartel,” said John Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service, the lead agency in the case. The suspects “were pretty well placed in the organization,” Miller said.

Concluding a two-month undercover investigation last week, federal agents arrested Jorge Ortiz, 35, of Garden Grove and Jaime Garcia, also 35, of Palos Verdes. The two were alleged to be the cartel’s supervisors in Orange County and Los Angeles County respectively.

Agents also seized about $200,000 in cash during raids on homes in Laguna Niguel, Palos Verdes and Garden Grove, Miller said. The suspects intentionally separated the money and drugs to limit damage to their operation in the event of a raid, Miller said.

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The cocaine seized in the operation has an estimated street value of $4.2 million, authorities said.

Also arrested were: Fernando Urrutia, 36, of San Francisco, a federal fugitive wanted in Miami on suspicion of smuggling more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States; Elkin Agudelo, 30, also of San Francisco, and Elma Rosa Subazso, 30, of Los Angeles.

Ortiz, Garcia and Subazso were arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on charges of money laundering and narcotics smuggling, said Allan Doudy, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service. They were being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of $1-million bail each, Doudy said.

Urrutia and Agudelo were arrested in San Francisco on suspicion of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. They were being held in that city in lieu of $1 million each.

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None of the suspects entered pleas Monday, authorities said.

Authorities said the drug investigation began in November when Urrutia approached an undercover Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy about a marijuana sale, reportedly to raise money to buy cocaine.

Federal agents then began surveillance of the suspects and obtained search warrants for a San Pedro residence, where the majority of alleged drug money was stashed, a Palos Verdes Estates home, where almost 300 pounds of cocaine were kept, and a vacant Laguna Niguel house at 4 Nice St. The Laguna Niguel house was used by the suspects for stashing drugs, authorities allege.

Federal agents said they are trying to locate three Columbian nationals still at large.

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