MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton hosted a press conference in Miami Wednesday to announce enforcement efforts by the Miami Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) in protecting U.S. maritime borders, including the latest indictments and arrests related to a narcotics trafficking conspiracy through the Port of Miami.
BEST was established in Miami in November 2008 and at other major seaports because U.S. ports and maritime borders are subject to significant threats to national security. The local Miami BEST has three teams covering the Miami Seaport, Miami River, Port Everglades Seaport and all maritime smuggling activities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The mission of the BEST program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities in the U.S. border through increased information sharing and collaboration among partner agencies. The 21 BESTs around the country incorporate personnel from ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations and Office of Border Patrol; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. Attorney's Office; and other key federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies. Together, BEST is focused on the identification, prioritization, and investigation of emerging threats.
ICE Director John Morton said, "HSI Border Enforcement Security Task Forces have continuously proven themselves to be a model law enforcement partnership in our efforts to confront national security threats to our ports of entry across the country. By leveraging the combined investigative expertise of our domestic and international partners on the BEST, we are able to fully and effectively address criminal activity that could undermine and threaten the Port of Miami. Most recently, ICE HSI special agents and task force officers assigned to the Miami Seaport Border Security Task Force uncovered, infiltrated and dismantled a conspiracy circumventing the security and Customs protocols established at the Port of Miami."
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, "Since September 11, the number one priority of the Department of Justice and this U.S. Attorney's Office has been to protect our national and domestic security. This includes helping our law enforcement partners keep our borders, including our seaports and airports, safe."
On Tuesday, ICE HSI special agents, assisted by DEA special agents, arrested six individuals, who were charged with conspiracy to import cocaine, heroin, and marijuana and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Arrested were longshoremen Albert W. Hines, 30, of Pembroke Pines, Fla.; Michael Canada, 30, of Miramar, Fla.; Alexander Terrell Pratt, 33, of Miami; Santonio Riou, 33, of Miami; Jessie Lamons, 58, of Miami; and Morris Henderson, 32, of Miami, who is currently in federal custody on ecstasy trafficking and weapons charges.
Francisco Gonzalez, 52, of Coral Springs, Fla. Devin Jackson, 42, residing in Costa Rica; Climaco Asprilla, 37, residing in Panama; and Mickey Honeyghan, 39, of Jamaica are also charged in the 20-count indictment. Longshoreman Vondre Asbury, 24, of Miami, was also previously arrested in February 2009, and is currently in federal prison on cocaine trafficking and importation charges.
The investigation, dubbed "Operation Gangplank," began in July 2007 after ICE HSI agents and task force officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department, DEA agents, and CBP officers at the Miami Seaport uncovered that longshoremen were actively involved in an international conspiracy that involved the importation of multiple kilograms and millions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana through the Port of Miami and Port Everglades.
The investigation revealed that certain members of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) were smuggling narcotics through these ports for suppliers located in Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Panama. The narcotics were often secreted in the chassis that the cargo containers were loaded on and other hiding places throughout the ships.
The conspiracy alleged in the indictment began in 2007 and ended in January 2010, during which time the Miami Seaport BEST seized narcotics with a street value of more than $6 million, including approximately 72 kilograms of cocaine, 2.5 kilograms of heroin, and 1,648 kilograms or 3,625 pounds of marijuana.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Dobbins.
In addition to the "Operation Gangplank" arrests and seizures, the Miami Seaport BEST has led or taken part in investigations resulting in over 140 other arrests and the seizure of more than 11,000 pounds of cocaine, more than 8,000 pounds of marijuana, more than 3,000 ecstasy pills, more than $175,000 in cash, 19 vehicles, 16 weapons, and more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition.
Seaport security is a top priority for ICE and its DHS partners, and the officers and agents assigned to BESTs have the technical expertise, resources and technology to detect illegal merchandise and contraband passing through seaports and across land borders.
Director Morton added, "Those who seek to exploit our seaports, airports or border crossings should be on notice. We're watching, and we'll catch you. And when we do, be prepared to spend a long time behind bars."
If convicted on all charges, they each face up to life in prison.