SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working jointly with the Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG), seized 469 pounds of cocaine and arrested two individuals for drug trafficking Sunday. The cocaine had an estimated street value of $5.7 million.
While on a routine patrol in the Caribbean Sea March 16, the crew of a Coast Guard maritime patrol aircraft detected a 25-foot go-fast vessel with two outboard engines and two subjects onboard traveling northwest without navigation lights approximately 115 nautical miles southeast of Vieques.
Coast Guard Sector San Juan was notified of the developing situation and diverted a cutter to interdict the suspect vessel. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) marine unit with an HSI special agent onboard also responded while the Puerto Rico Police Department's Joint Force for Rapid Actions, along the east coast of Puerto Rico, remained ready to respond in case the go-fast vessel entered Puerto Rico jurisdictional waters.
The Coast Guard maintained constant surveillance as the CBP cutter Reef Shark arrived on scene and intercepted the go-fast vessel approximately 22 nautical miles southeast of Vieques. The crew of the Reef Shark located the suspected illegal drug shipment in plain sight, a total of seven bales, and detained Raddif Tapia-Rivera and Estevan DeCarlos. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine.
The Coast Guard transferred custody of the two alleged smugglers, the narcotics and the go-fast vessel to HSI special agents for further investigation and prosecution. The HSI investigation is ongoing.
If convicted of smuggling charges, Tapia-Rivera and DeCarlos face a sentence of 10 years of up to life in prison. Both men were transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo awaiting the outcome of their case.