In a city where Coca Cola, United Parcel Service and Home Depot are the titans of industry, there are new powerful forces on the block: Mexican drug cartels.

Their presence and ruthless tactics are largely unknown to most here. Yet, of the 195 U.S. cities where Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are operating, federal law enforcement officials say Atlanta has emerged as the new gateway to the troubled Southwest border.

Rival drug cartels, the same violent groups warring in Mexico for control of routes to lucrative U.S. markets, have established Atlanta as the principal distribution center for the entire eastern U.S., according to the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center.

In fiscal year 2008, federal drug authorities seized more drug-related cash in Atlanta — about $70 million — than any other region in the country, Drug Enforcement Administration records show.

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