NEW YORK --A sophisticated drug ring delivered high-grade marijuana to the doorsteps of thousands of regular customers -- including celebrities -- during the last six years in Manhattan and on Long Island, authorities said Wednesday.
Since Nov. 17, federal and local agents have arrested 12 suspects on money laundering and drug conspiracy charges, including John Nebel, the alleged head of the organization known as the Cartoon Network. A call to Nebel's attorney was not immediately returned.
Authorities said they suspect customers included the rich and famous but refused to give any names. Electronic surveillance intercepted one conversation in October in which a courier boasted to a possible recruit about the ring's clientele, court papers said.
"We know comedians. We know celebrities," he said. "So you might meet a rapper, a singer. We go to a lot of people."
Authorities estimate that between 1999 and this month, the ring made a fortune by distributing more than a ton of hydroponic marijuana grown in Canada. An indictment seeks forfeiture of $22 million in cash, homes, cars, motorcycles and a boat.
Customers placed orders by calling a pager number. A roving call center, sometimes located in a hotel room, would then contact the customer, confirm his or her identity on a computerized database and take orders averaging between $100 and $500.
The call center averaged 600 calls a day from 50,000 phone numbers, court papers said. The marijuana was packaged in plastic containers -- sometimes referred to as "jars of sauce" -- and delivered to the customers' doors by a team of couriers.
Investigators said they have seized $837,000 worth of drugs and $685,000 in cash. During a raid on one stash house, agents found "more than 30 pounds of marijuana, in open and plain view, and already packaged for retail holiday delivery to Cartoon Network customers," court papers said.
The packages featured the network's cartoon character logo and a warm greeting: "Happy Holidays From Your Friends at Cartoon!"