The arrest of an alleged drug boss in Chicago has revealed a bold trafficking operation by Mexican gangs who fly tonnes of cocaine from the US to Australia in private planes and, on the return leg, fly out "millions of dollars" in cash profits.
To entice pilots to fly the jets for the monthly US-Australia round-trip, cash windfalls are offered, according to court documents.
Planes used to fly cocaine to Australia are loaded with millions of dollars in cash for the flight back to the US and pilots are paid a 10 per cent share of the booty.
The details are alleged in the criminal complaint lodged by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the US District Court in Illinois against Jose "Juanito" Mares-Barragan, a 31-year-old accused of being the co-head of a Chicago drug trafficking organisation working for Mexico's ruthless Sinaloa cartel.
"If he wants to go big, we can go big," Mares-Barragan allegedly told an informant, codenamed CS1, during a recorded meeting to discuss enticing a pilot to fly cocaine from South America to Central America.
The pilot would make $US500,000 ($NZ600,000) for each South America-Central America flight and CS1 would earn between $US30,000 and $US50,000 for introducing the pilot to Mares-Barragan, documents filed in court allege.
Mares-Barragan also allegedly told the informant "$US1500 per brick" would be earned for transporting 20 to 25 bricks of cocaine from California to Chicago.
Mares-Barragan's former co-head of the Chicago drug operation has become a "reliable" key informant for authorities, in the hope of receiving a reduced sentence, and is referred to as "Individual A" in court documents.
According to the complaint against Mares-Barragan, CS1 and Individual A met on January 13, 2012 and the movement of cocaine from the US to Australia was discussed.
"Individual A advised that his/her associates were moving millions of dollars per month from Australia to the United States, and that the money was being used to purchase cocaine to be sold in Australia," special agent for the DEA Christopher O'Reilly wrote in the criminal complaint lodged against Mares-Barragan.
"In prior meetings between CS1 and Individual A, CS1 had pretended to be a pilot.
"Individual A asked CS1 whether he/she was interested in moving millions of dollars from Australia to the United States."
Mares-Barragan was arrested on January 22 and charged with conspiracy to attempt to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.
He has been refused bail and is being held at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Centre.