SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, working jointly with Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF) officers, seized 199 bricks of cocaine Thursday with an estimated weight of 245 kilograms and a street value of approximately $5 million. Two U.S. citizens were arrested for drug trafficking in connection with the seizure.
At approximately 10:40 a.m. Thursday, a marine patrol aircraft assigned to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Caribbean Air and Marine Branch (CAMB), crewed by CBP officers and a Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) agent, detected a suspicious white fiberglass twin outboard center console vessel traveling eastbound toward Puerto Rico with two persons on board.
A second suspicious vessel; described as a single engine, white fiberglass with light blue trim, with two persons wearing yellow raincoats; was observed in the vicinity traveling westbound toward the Dominican Republic. The proximity within the two vessels suggested a possible transfer of contraband at sea.
A CBP marine interceptor was launched to intercept the vessel, reaching it at approximately 10 miles off the coast of La Parguera in the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. Once intercepted, the crew of the suspicious vessel was instructed to set course to the Mayaguez marine unit for further inspection. The inspections conducted by CBP's field operations officers and Border Patrol agents revealed approximately 199 bricks with a white powdery substance that reacted positive to cocaine during a field drug test.
HSI special agents took custody of the narcotics and the two individuals for further investigation. Brothers Elvis Aviles Vega, 46, and Alberto Aviles, 47, were transferred to the Guaynabo, Puerto Rico Metropolitan Detention Center awaiting the outcome of their case. They had their initial hearing before a magistrate judge on Friday.
"HSI will continue working with our CCSF partners to investigate and prosecute those who in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life try to smuggle or transport illegal contraband into or outside our area of jurisdiction," said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge HSI San Juan. "This seizure demonstrates what can be accomplished when law enforcement agencies work together with vigilance and a commitment to enforce our nation's customs laws."
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 utilizing the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed by HSI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, the Coast Guard, CBP, and PRPD's Unified Forces for Rapid Action.
HSI special agents have extensive knowledge of techniques employed by smuggling organizations to transport contraband into the United States. This expertise has been gained through years of experience in conducting undercover operations, utilizing confidential informants, special enforcement operations and conducting contraband smuggling investigations.
The methods used by smuggling organizations are always changing. Through continued training, the use of emerging technologies, and dedication, HSI has maintained its expertise in disrupting and dismantling these criminal organizations
ICE encourages the public to report suspected narcotic smuggling and related information by calling at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. For more information, visit www.ice.gov.