The investigation, which lasted more than a year, marked the first time U.S. officials identified a drug organization working in Colombia that authorities there were not aware of, the U.S. attorney's office said.
"Our ability to do this to take out an entire drug organization from the Colombia source to the New York distributors to the streets of Philadelphia is an astounding achievement that will not be unnoticed by the drug cartels," U.S. Attorney Michael Stiles said. "This is the dismantling of an entire operation from beginning to end."
Thirty-one people were arrested in Colombia, 27 in Pennsylvania and 11 in New York in investigations dubbed Operation White Horse and Operation Guaranteed Delivery.
Those arrested in Pennsylvania included Jhon Barniy Marulanda-Pena, who was identified as the ringleader of the groups. He was known on the street as "John the Colombian."
Some of the heroin distributors operated out of a Philadelphia pizzeria, authorities said.
Many of the others arrested were couriers who swallowed the drugs and smuggled them into the United States via Aruba, Stiles said.
Authorities seized nearly 40 pounds of heroin and shut down a processing lab in Colombia and a distribution center in a Philadelphia house.
Colombian authorities also seized weapons, cars, communications equipment and documents containing "information that is going to generate new investigations in Colombia," Gen. Luis Rodrigues, the head of Colombia's judicial police, said through an interpreter. He gave no details of the investigations.
Heroin, a product of the opium poppy plant, may be injected, snorted or smoked, producing a feeling of euphoria. The Drug Enforcement Agency considers Mexico and Colombia the major suppliers of the drug to the United States, although Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Nigeria, Laos, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey are also sources.
©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report