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The tip came on the last day of January 2014 to special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement: A drug courier was about to land at the Baltimore airport with a large shipment.

Hours later, the agents asked the man, Edgar Franco Lopez, a Guatemalan, to search the three large duffel bags he was loading in a car outside the airport. But agents found only food. So they bluffed, saying they had found evidence of drugs in the bags.

The driver, Edwin Quintana Carranza, a Mexican in the United States illegally who had claimed the bags were his and consented to the search, confessed. The drugs were hidden in the sugar wafers, he said.

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Carranza were key links in a drug smuggling network that stretched thousands of miles from Guatemala to Baltimore, according to court records and interviews with agents involved in the case. Law enforcement officials said members of Guatemala’s Ipala Cartel, a drug trafficking organization named for the city where it is based, shipped large amounts of heroin into the United States, hiding drugs in food, primarily sugar wafers, brownies, soups, lollipops and other candy.

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