LARGEST-EVER COKE BUST MAY HELP L.A. GET FEDERAL AID

The world's largest drug bust, enough cocaine to fill two school buses, underlines Los Angeles's growing emergence as a narcotics hub. The seizure of almost 20 tons of cocaine in a suburban warehouse here Friday also highlights changes in smuggling routes and may buttress the city's cause in trying to get more federal aid for the war on drugs.

Even before the latest bust, southern California was well on its way to supplanting Florida as the nation's premier cocaine alleyway. Officials estimate that the area supplies half the nation's cocaine and 80 percent of its ``angel dust,'' or PCP. More than $100 million in cash was seized here last year, the first time more drug money was confiscated in Los Angeles than in Miami.

A crackdown on smuggling in Florida is one reason for the influx of cocaine here. Southern California also represents a huge consumer market, sits astride Mexico (apparently the preferred corridor now for ``coke'' from South America), and has more than 10,000 gang members believed to be involved in trafficking.

Last week's seizure of $6 billion worth of cocaine (street value) won't do anything to undermine the city's dubious distinction. City officials, though, are trying to turn all that white into green: They're plumping for more antidrug aid from Uncle Sam.

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