MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents working jointly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) marine enforcement agents and field operations officers seized here Sunday more than 855 pounds of marijuana with a street value of approximately $685,000 and arrested three men allegedly linked to the seizure.
The seizure took place Sunday, at 8:15 p.m. after CBP officials in Miami interdicted a 29-foot pleasure vessel attempting to smuggle the marijuana into the United States from the Bahamas. The vessel was observed proceeding in a westerly direction near Haulover Inlet in Miami Beach, Fla. Upon boarding the vessel, the marine enforcement officers encountered the captain of the vessel, identified as Vladimir Avila, 31, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and two passengers identified as Kevin Wright, 31, a Jamaican national, and Daniel Casares, 36, of West Palm Beach, Fla.
ICE special agents in Miami responded to the area of Haulover Marina in Miami Beach, Fla. and arrested the three crew members.
Casares, Wright and Avila, were charged with unlawful importation of a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute.
Earlier Monday, the defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra of the Southern District of Florida for their initial appearances. If convicted, the defendants face up to 40 years in prison.
"ICE and CBP have once again stopped the importation of a huge amount of marijuana from entering the U.S., and identified the drug smugglers, preventing these illegal drugs from being distributed throughout our communities," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami. "Drug traffickers who think they can use our maritime borders to import illegal drugs into the United States should know that ICE and our law enforcement partners are committed to stopping the movement of contraband."
"By working with our partners in law enforcement we are able to combine our strengths in order to more effectively protect the homeland from all manner of threats," said Harold Woodward, Director of CBP Field Operations.
During fiscal year 2009, ICE's Office of Investigations Marine Smuggling Group in Miami has seized 4,414.60 lbs of marijuana in addition to this seizure.
The cases are being handled by the Major Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Florida.