The U.S. Justice Department said the syndicate operates in the United States, Canada and Europe, and consists of several ethnic Albanian family clans, or "fis," with hundreds of associated members, workers and customers spanning three continents.
The department said the operation has been ongoing for more than a decade, and allegedly is responsible for organizing the import and distribution of tens of thousands of kilograms of hydroponic marijuana from Canada and Mexico, substantial quantities of MDMA -- known as "ecstasy" -- from the Netherlands and Canada, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, and large quantities of diverted prescription pills, such as oxycodone.
The drugs were distributed across the United States, including New York, California, Georgia, Colorado and Florida, as well as in Canada and Europe, the indictment alleged.
Most defendants were arrested early Wednesday in New York, New Jersey, Colorado and Florida, the Justice Department said. Federal agents also executed search warrants on seven alleged syndicate-controlled stash houses and residences, recovering 18 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
One of the alleged ringleaders was arrested in Albania, and the United States has requested his extradition, the department said. Those defendants arrested in the New York City metropolitan area were scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Andrew L. Carter in Brooklyn.
The indictment and other court documents alleged a four-year investigation showed most of the marijuana smuggled from Canada and Mexico was concealed in tractor-trailers, typically in 100-pound quantities, with some shipments weighing as much as 1,200 pounds. The marijuana shipments allegedly were stored in warehouses and locations throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx before distribution.
Cocaine was concealed in hidden compartments inside luxury automobiles.
If convicted, syndicate leaders would face 25 years to life in prison, the department said.
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