The war on drugs can be a ridiculous contrivance, but there's just something awesome about seeing cops raid a pusher man and come away with staggeringly huge amounts of illegal substances grown in a hidden grow op or in a space bucket. Here are the most epic busts ever perpetrated.
1. The Sylmar Warehouse Bust, 1989 - $6 Billion
The City of Angels has always been the locus for cocaine in America, so it's not surprising that the biggest coke bust of all time happened there. In 1989, the ATF received an anonymous tip about a suspicious warehouse in Sylmar. Since they get dozens of these a day, it took a little while to follow up on it, but when they did they found a building packed to the rafters with a staggering 20 tons of cocaine, along with $10 million in cash. The drugs could have pulled in $6 billion on the streets. The most amazing part: All of this was protected with a flimsy $6 padlock.
2. Hayward, California Warehouse 1991 - $4 Billion
In what is generally regarded as the biggest haul of smack in U.S. history, authorities raided a warehouse in Hayward, Calif. after a month of surveillance and came away with a staggering 1,200 pounds of China White heroin. That doesn't seem like much from a poundage perspective, but the street value of those drugs was estimated at nearly $3 billion. One warehouse was valued at more than Mark Cuban's entire net worth. The cover for the business was a porcelain-importing company. Four people were arrested in conjunction with the raid.
3. The Tranquilandia Takedown in Columbia - $1.2 Billion
To the DEA, "Tranquilandia," the cocaine-processing laboratory set up in the jungles of Caquetá, Columbia, by Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin Cartel, was anything but tranquil; it was Public Enemy #1 on the War on Drugs. Tranquilandia consisted of 19 laboratories, an independent water source, electrical system, dormitories for workers, and eight isolated airstrips. It was a satellite tracking device on a tank of ether (a main chemical in cocaine processing) that led the DEA and Columbian National Police into the Columbian jungle. In March 1984, Tranquilandia was raided; 14 tons of cocaine valued at $1.2 billion was seized, and Escobar's laboratory complex was destroyed.
4. Panama Coast Guard Bust - $600 Million
On a clear, sunny day in southwest Panama, March 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted a suspicious cargo ship 20 miles off the coast. At the time, the U.S. was working with Panamanian authorities and other Central and South American agencies in a counter-narcotics effort known as "Panama Express."
Two Coast Guard cutters made contact with the ship, the Gatun, and there, in plain sight, were bales and bricks of cocaine stacked on top of the freighter. 20 tons of cocaine was seized that day, with an estimated street value of $600 million. The Gatun seizure is the largest maritime Cocaine bust in U.S. history.
5. Pizarro, Colombia - $500 Million
In a country that produces more than 500 tons of cocaine a year, drug seizures, both large and small, are almost weekly affair in Colombia. However, the navy uncovered more than it bargained for in the coastal town of Pizarro in 2007. 27 tons of cocaine, buried in 1,000 packages weighing 55 pounds each, was hidden along the Pacific coast, 250 miles west of Bogota. The cocaine was stashed in an estuary that was only accessible by sea. No arrests were made in the operation, but officials believed the drugs belonged to the Norte del Valle cartel. The Pizarro bust is the largest in Columbia's history.
6. "I'm Going to Get You High, Dude!" Marijuana Bust in Mexico - $425 Million
In what has to be the most comical and misguided marketing campaign in history, not to mention the biggest drug bust to ever take place in Mexico, 105 tons of pot, most of it packaged with colorful cartoon labels, was seized after a pre-dawn gun battle with cartel members in 2010. 10,000 colorful packages of weed, some of which were labeled with bulls, wolves, arrows, and other symbols (the packaging label and color-code designates where the package is to be shipped) were hidden in cargo containers in a warehouse in Tijuana. However, in a clear sign cartel members were tasting a little of their product, some of the drug packages were designed with a picture of Homer Simpson, proudly declaring, "Voy de mojarra, que wey!" Translation: "I'm going to get you high, dude!"
7. The Spin Buldak Bust, Afghanistan - $400 Million
The War on Drugs and the War on Terror intersected in Spin Buldak, a region 25 miles from the Pakistani border. The Afghan National Police Special Task Force uncovered a stockpile of hashish said to weigh as much as 30 double decker London buses. 261 tons of the tarry, marijuana concentrate was concealed in trenches and caves. The Taliban is known to fund its operations and purchase weapons from finances accrued from the drug trade, and sources believe $14 of the $400 million hashish stockpile was to be funneled to the terror group.
8. Melbourne Ecstasy Bust, 2008 - $309 Million
Drug smugglers use all kinds of sneaky methods to get their merchandise from place to place. When an international smuggling syndicate tried to move 4.4 tons of ecstasy into Australia, they packaged the pills in tomato cans and shipped them through Melbourne Harbor. In a classic sly narc move, the cops intercepted the shipment, swapped placebos for all the drugs and continued to monitor it to trace it back to the buyers. Seventeen people ended up being arrested up and down the pipeline as a result of the investigation.
9. Tons of Tijuana Terpenes, 2010 - $215 Million
Needless to say, the Mexican border towns are some of the hottest areas in the drug business, with cartels conspiring to push tremendous amounts of illegal substances into the United States. The hugest marijuana bust to ever happen in Mexico took place in Tijuana in 2010. Early one October morning, police and soldiers stormed a warehouse and got into a gun battle with cartel soldiers. Once the crooks were routed, the cops were stunned to find 105 tons -- 10,000 packages -- of marijuana, color-coded by shipping region. One stack even had pictures of Homer Simpson on them saying, "I'm going to get high, dude" in Spanish. The total value was more than $215 million.
10. The Trans-Border Underground Railway
What the Trans-Border Railway drug bust lacks in monetary street value, the criminal enterprise makes up for in inventiveness, diligence, and low-fi sophistication. Taking a cue from America's Underground Railroad, Mexican marijuana traffickers excavated a 1,800-foot tunnel beneath the Mexican-California border, and while borderland tunnels are nothing new, this clandestine passageway had ventilation, electricity, and a light rail system for easy transport. A suspicious truck led police to a Tijuana warehouse, where they uncovered the entrance to the tunnel. 30 tons of pot was seized. Estimated value: $21.2 million.