CBP, HSI Seize 3,912 Pounds of Cocaine Off North Coast of Puerto Rico; Two Venezuelans Arrested
SAN JUAN, P.R. - U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized 3,912 pounds (1,774 kilos) of cocaine Monday inside a Zodiac type vessel 10 miles off the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The estimated value of the narcotics is $50 million.
On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille L. Vélez-Rivé authorized a complaint charging Reny Alexander López-Meeces and Andri Rivas Rojas-Irving, both found inside the vessel and citizens of Venezuela, with conspiracy to possess a controlled substance on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
On Monday afternoon, a CBP Office of Air and Marine (OAM) Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) detected a Zodiac type vessel traveling southbound heading directly to Puerto Rico. While under surveillance, the MPA coordinated with the CBP Marine Patrol Units to intercept the Zodiac. Upon detection of the CBP marine units, the occupants of the vessel began to jettison what appeared to be bales of contraband into the water.
Additionally, while avoiding interdiction, one of the Zodiac crew members fell overboard while in the process of throwing bales into the water. A total of three bales where recovered from the ocean along with the man that had fallen over board. The Zodiac type boat was detained with a total of 58 additional bales and one more crew member.
The contraband, in the form of brick shape objects, was field tested and yielded positive results to cocaine. A total of two crew members were placed under arrest. Further, a total of 61 bales of cocaine were seized with an approximate weight of 1,774.4 kilograms.
“Our air and marine assets are always ready to assist all federal, state and local law enforcement partners to interdict smuggling ventures and curb criminal activity in the island,” stated Johnny Morales, Director of Air Operations at the CBP Caribbean Air and Marine Branch.
“These arrests are a clear indication of the continued success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “
The case was investigated by agents from the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF). The CCSF is an initiative of the U.S. Attorney's Office created to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of DEA, HSI, FBI, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Attorney Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and PRPD's Joint Forces for Rapid Action.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Carlos R. Cardona.
The defendants are facing terms of imprisonment from 10 years to life for the narcotics violations. Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.