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Federal Authorities Seize $3.5 Million in Cocaine, Detain Three Smugglers in Caribbean

JAN 30 (SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) – Yesterday, January 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcos E. López authorized a complaint charging: Joselito Taveras, Miguel Jimenez, and Alberto Dominguez with conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, and conspiracy to import and importation of controlled substances, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. 
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Farallon offloaded 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of cocaine Monday night, 60 nautical miles northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico and transferred the custody of the defendants to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents and Customs and Border Protection officers Wednesday at Coast Guard San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The interdiction was a result of U.S. Coast Guard, Customs Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration and Dominican Republic Navy coordinated efforts in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard, and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF), to interdict the illegal drug shipment consisting of nine bales of cocaine with an estimated street value of approximately $3.5 million dollars.

Vito Guarino, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Caribbean Division. SAC Guarino announced the indictment of Cepeda and Acevedo, jointly with Rosa Rodriguez, U.S. Attorney, District of Puerto Rico. PRPD Maritime Unit intercepted the "Eduardoño" vessel discovering 54 bales containing cocaine. The joint DEA –FBI investigation resulted in the seizure of approximately 1,500 kilograms of cocaine.

(Photos and Caption provided by USCG via Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System):
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Farallon transfers custody of a 300 pound cocaine shipment to Drug Enforcement Administration special agents and Customs and Border Protection officers Jan. 29, 2014, at Coast Guard Base San Juan, Puerto Rico, following an at-sea interdiction approximately 60 nautical miles off the northwest coast of Aguadilla Puerto Rico Jan. 27, 2014. The crew of the Farallon transferred custody of the $3.5 million dollar illegal drug shipment and three Dominican Republic smugglers to awaiting Drug Enforcement special agents and Customs and Border Protection officers for further investigation and processing. (U.S. Coast Guard photos)

“These arrests and multi-kilogram seizure are a strong indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Initiative,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.  “The US Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement counterparts remain committed to using every law enforcement tool available to attack these criminal organizations and ensure that drug traffickers and their associates are brought to justice for the damage they inflict on our communities.”

“Our multiagency and international partnerships in the region continue to pay off as we continue to interdict major drug shipments and bring smugglers to justice,” said Capt. Drew W. Pearson, Commander, Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “Our resolve and commitment are unwavering as we stand watch twenty-four seven to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats delivered by the sea.”

“Once more DEA's joint efforts with our counterparts to stop the flow of drugs through the Caribbean region paid off,” said Vito Salvatore Guarino, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Caribbean Division. “This successful interdiction operation is another example of the effectiveness of our coordinated teamwork approach to cut off the supply of drugs transiting our region.”

While on patrol, the crew of a Coast Guard Auxiliary fixed-wing patrol aircraft detected three men aboard a suspicious, eastbound 20-foot yola (boat) carrying a load of suspected contraband northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.  When the vessel spotted the aircraft, it immediately turned west toward Dominican Republic.

The crew of the Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft notified Coast Guard Sector San Juan Watchstanders of the developing situation, who in turn proceeded to divert the Coast Guard Cutter Farallon and launch Coast Guard aircraft, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Borinquen and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft deployed to Puerto Rico from Air Station Miami, to provide air support throughout the interdiction.

The suspected smugglers became compliant as the Coast Guard Cutter Farallon arrived on scene with the cutter small boat and came alongside the suspect vessel that was taking on water and sinking.  The crew of Farallon’s small boat rescued the three men onboard, seized the nine bales of suspected contraband and transferred the men and seized contraband to the Farallon before the smuggler’s vessel completed sinking.  A field test revealed the suspected contraband to be cocaine.

The Coast Guard's efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved each and every day locally under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, its DHS, Commonwealth and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working diligently to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney José Contreras.  If convicted, the defendants could face from 10 years up to life in prison.

Criminal Complaint

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