CABO ROJO, Puerto Rico - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents, working jointly with officers assigned to the Caribbean Corridor Initiative, seized here this morning 175 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of more than $5 million and arrested three men connected to the smuggling attempt.
Angel Rafael Romero-Santana, 24, Luis Antonio Berroa, 33, and Gregorio Espinal-Gutierrezi, 44, were traveling from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico in a 30-foot homemade boat, similar to those used to smuggle illegal aliens, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) patrol aircraft spotted the drug-carrying vessel near Desecheo Island off the west coast of Puerto Rico.
ICE agents were subsequently called to the scene where they seized the contraband and arrested the three Dominican nationals for illegally importing narcotics into the United States.
"Drug traffickers should know that ICE will not rest until we bring them to justice," said Manuel Oyola Torres, special agent-in-charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Puerto Rico. "Those who think that the Mona Passage as an easy route to import illegal contraband into the United States are mistaken. ICE is committed working with its law enforcement partners in an effort to stop the movement of contraband in the Caribbean."
The Caribbean Corridor strike force 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 comprised of ICE, the United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Romero-Santana, Berroa and Espinal-Gutierrez, were transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, where they will remain awaiting the outcome of their case.
During fiscal years 2006 and 2007, ICE agents in Puerto Rico seized 3,699 and 3,216 kilograms of cocaine respectively. The street value of the contraband is approximately $207 million. Just last week, ICE agents seized a similar vessel carrying 177 kilograms of cocaine.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Elba Gorbea.
The public is reminded that a criminal complaint is not evidence of any guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial. The U.S. government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.