SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working jointly with other members of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF), arrested two U.S. citizens for drug trafficking and seized 450 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $10 million Tuesday off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
"Through these arrests and seizures we are sending a clear message: Puerto Rico will not be a safe haven for criminals looking to ship drugs into Puerto Rico and the United States," said Angel Melendez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. "ICE and its federal and local partners are committed to working together to stop the flow of illegal narcotics into Puerto Rico."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers onboard a marine surveillance vessel detected the two men aboard a suspicious 30-foot fiberglass boat with two outboard engines transiting illegally towards Vieques, Puerto Rico. Subsequently, Coast Guard San Juan received notification from CBP of the ongoing situation and diverted a Coast Guard special purpose craft, on patrol in waters east of Puerto Rico, to interdict the suspect vessel.
The Coast Guard Cutter Farallon arrived on scene shortly thereafter, and the crew embarked the two suspected smugglers' vessel and searched as it was taking on water and began to sink. Coast Guard boarding team members were able to locate and offload 11 bales of suspected contraband before the vessel sank entirely. A field test conducted by Farallon crew members on the contents of the shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine.
Those arrested were transferred to the Guaynabo, Puerto Rico Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting the outcome of their case. They had their initial hearing before US Magistrate Judge Bruce McGiverin Thursday and remained detained.
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 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and 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 HSI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Coast Guard, CBP and Puerto Rico Police Department's Joint Forces for Rapid Action.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected weapons and narcotics smuggling and related information by calling at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. For more information, visit www.ice.gov.