At its height, the alleged trafficking ring distributed 1 million ecstasy tablets per month in the two countries and laundered another $5 million a month through a series of bank transfers, officials said Wednesday.
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy said the two-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Candy Box," culminated in the arrests of nearly the entire trafficking operation, from kingpins to couriers.
"We wiped out this entire organization," Tandy said at a news conference.
The alleged ringleaders are Ze Wai Wong, 46, a Chinese national, and Mai Phuong Le, 38, a Vietnamese national. Wong was arrested in Toronto and Le in Ottawa.
U.S. and Canadian charging documents accuse Wong of leading a drug distribution ring in 18 U.S. cities and Canada and contend Le orchestrated the laundering of drug money for the operation.
"Through the work of many different agencies, we have achieved a top-to-bottom decimation of a dangerous drug organization and a complementary attack on the fuel that drives the organization — their money," Deputy Attorney General James Comey said.
The investigation revealed for the first time the existence of ecstasy manufacturing labs in Canada, which were supplied by powder smuggled from the Netherlands, Comey said. The three labs were dismantled by Canadian officials in August.
The organization also trafficked in Canadian-grown marijuana, known as "BC Bud," and was involved in identity theft and other criminal enterprises, officials said. Ecstasy, or MDMA, is a synthetic substance that is known as a "club drug" because of its popularity at gatherings called "raves" and dance clubs.
Of the 170 charged in arrest warrants, about 145 had been arrested as of Wednesday afternoon. Arrest and search warrants were executed in 16 American cities, with Canadian authorities serving 50 arrest warrants in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.
Arrests were made in these U.S. cities: Houston; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; San Jose, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans; Baton Rouge, La.; Mobile, Ala.; New York; Boston; Atlanta; Alexandria, Va.; Des Moines, Iowa; Minneapolis; and Salt Lake City.