NEW YORK (AP) _ Federal agents have arrested 44 people they believe were key members of the Colombian Cali drug cartel's U.S. operation, supplying up to 80 percent of the cocaine in the New York area.

Raids during the past two weeks in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Connecticut netted more than 12 tons of cocaine seized on ships and several of the gang's hitmen who were planning murders, federal drug officials said.

''The leaders and key players of this Cali organization have, in a word, been put out of business,'' Robert Bonner, the head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said Friday at a news conference.

Forty-four defendants were arrested, including 35 on Wednesday and Thursday, and charged with a variety of drug crimes, Bonner said.

The agents recovered weapons, including a 9mm Uzi submachine gun, a 9mm pistol and two .38-caliber revolvers, from the suspected hired killers. They have seized more than $12 million in cash from the ring during the past 19 months, Bonner said.

''This is the most significant attack on the Cali cartel ever,'' said assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew J. Maloney said.

Authorities said the key members of the ring, Ramiro Herrera, Carlos Guzman and Alphonso Martinez, were arrested last week by local police and DEA agents on Long Island.

Bonner said Herrera is the brother of Helmer Herrera-Buitrago, one of the Cali-based leaders of the cartel. Ramiro Herrera allegedly ran the cartel's New York operation, directing cocaine distribution.

Ramiro Herrera, who allegedly ran the New York operation, was arrested along with kingpins Carlos Guzman and Alphonso Martinez last week on Long Island.