2010 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Carl W. Pike and the Project Coronado Team

Led the largest strike against the La Familia Mexican drug cartel, resulting in more than 1,000 arrests, plus the seizure of one and a half tons of methamphetamine and $32 million in cash.

The federal government struck a severe blow last October against a ruthless Mexican drug cartel that is responsible for distributing massive amounts of narcotics in the United States, smuggling cash and weapons back to Mexico and murdering Mexican law enforcement officials.

In a 20-state operation known as Project Coronado, 3,000 law enforcement officers arrested more than 1,200 associates of La Familia, seized more than one and a half tons of methamphetamine, $32 million in cash and 400 weapons in what was described as the largest strike ever against a Mexican drug cartel.

The head of this complex, multi-agency task force was Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Carl Pike, a man described by colleagues as providing the skills, strategy and guidance necessary to successfully execute the targeted raids and arrests.

“What stands out is Carl’s personality and leadership,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Soiles. “He oversaw the broad interests of the law enforcement community, displayed phenomenal negotiating and planning skills, and facilitated collaboration between agencies and international partners that often had competing interests.”

Project Coronado involved almost four years of planning and culminated in strikes in more than 50 cities on Oct. 21, 2009, including Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and locations in California and North Carolina. The operation also required extensive follow-up in the days and weeks afterward.

FBI Deputy Special Agent in Charge Willie Walker described Project Coronado as “the best run multi-agency initiative that I’ve had a role in.”

“Carl provided the leadership and the vision,” said Walker. “He introduced and shared creative approaches to defeat measures the cartel had in place to avoid detection.”

After the arrests, Attorney General Eric Holder said the “unprecedented, coordinated U.S. law enforcement action” dealt a “significant blow to La Familia’s supply chain of illegal drugs, weapons and cash flowing between Mexico and the United States.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller said Project Coronado successfully disrupted an organization that terrorizes communities in Mexico while “peddling drugs in our neighborhoods here in the United States.”

La Familia is a heavily-armed, quasi-religious cult and drug cartel that uses violence to further its narcotics trafficking business, and is responsible for murders often by beheading, as well as kidnappings and military-style assaults on the police and civilian population of Mexico. It is one of the major traffickers of methamphetamine in the United States.

Project Coronado followed DEA operations against three other major Mexican drug cartels, and was part of a broader joint U.S.-Mexican effort to combat drug trafficking. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other officials all have met with Mexican leaders and pledged continued support for Mexico’s war against the drug cartels. They also acknowledged that much of the problem comes from the continued U.S. demand for illegal drugs.

Pike, who heads the largest section within DEA’s Special Operations Division—covering Mexico, Canada and Central America—said “one of the big obstacles and notable successes was working with the Mexican government.”

“They are really trying to assist in this problem, but corruption is so widespread,” he said. “Still, they knew what was going on and they took action.”

Pike describes his leadership style as similar to what takes place at Google or Apple, where idea sharing, “free thinking and brainstorming” are encouraged.

“When you come up against a problem, throw it on the table and see what others think up,” he said.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Derek Maltz said Pike is “well-respected, personable” and has a management style that is open and inclusive.

“Pike actively recruits exceptionally talented, hard-working and experienced people for his section and fosters a unified team environment,” said Maltz.

Pike’s desire to spur collaboration may have made him an effective project “coach,” but he characterizes himself as a cheerleader. “My wife is a Saints fan and equates me to Drew Brees leading the team cheer at the beginning of the game,” he said.

While his colleagues give him great the credit for the success of Project Coronado, Pike is quick to praise his co-workers.

“I feel very lucky to have the best people in the world working for me,” Pike said. “And behind them are their families who support us through long hours and a lot of travel away from home.”