Three Belize brothers transported cocaine from Mexico into the United States in shoes.
As the perpetrators got bolder, the shoes got bigger.
"They have young girls with size 13 shoes who could barely walk in them, and it drew attention," said Robyn Jones Hahnert, an assistant U.S. Attorney.
On Friday, one of the brothers, Duane Seawell, will be sentenced in federal court in Columbus after pleading guilty in July to money laundering and two counts of shipping cocaine into the U.S..
Seawell is the first of the brothers to be convicted in a multimillion dollar plot that prosecutors say extended from Belize through Mexico to cities across the U.S., including Columbus, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Lakeland, Florida.
Mark Seawell was taken into custody in Belize in February and is awaiting extradition. Gary Seawell is at large.
To date, 70 people have been prosecuted and convicted in courts in the United States and Mexico.
Prosecutors say the drug dealing began in the mid-1990s when the three brothers were living in the U.S., and the trio hired couriers to drive marijuana from Texas to Ohio or mailed it to addresses in Ohio.
In 1996, the brothers started shipping cocaine in tennis shoes, according to the government.
In Columbus, Gary Seawell recruited the couriers, usually young people in their early to mid-20s promised $1,000 (687 EUR) and a free trip to Cancun, Mexico, in exchange for transporting the drugs, investigators said.
"Young and naive" was the explanation one defendant, Christopher Lewis of Columbus, gave authorities after his arrest. Lewis was sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year on charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs and money laundering.
Duane Seawell, 34, faces 14 to 21 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.