MIAMI, FL. – Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, and Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, announce the unsealing of a July 15, 2011 indictment against 13 individuals on charges that they engaged in a narcotics trafficking conspiracy spanning from Colombia and Venezuela to the British Virgin Islands and the United States. Charged in the 19-count indictment are Roberto Mendez-Hurtado, 51, of Colombia, Alvaro Ricardo Nino-Bonilla, 40, of Colombia, Roberto Harrigan, 31, of the British Virgin Islands, Samuel Javier, 57, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jorge Ivan Riveros, 38, of Colombia, Luis Fernando Velasquez-Ramirez, 34, of Miami, Florida, Narciso Rondon-Mejia, 48, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Severo Confessor, 70, of New York, New York, Earl DelVille Hodge, 51, of the British Virgin Islands, Juan Figueroa-Valdez, 38, of the British Virgin Islands, Carlston Beazer, 33, of the British Virgin Islands, Chad Skelton, 37, of the British Virgin Islands, and Humberto Gallego, 44, of Queens, New York.
Nine defendants have been arrested, and four remain at large. Five were arrested in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, early this morning, including Earl Delville Hodge, a/k/a “Bob Hodge,” a federal fugitive and cocaine trafficker living in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Also arrested in the British Virgin Islands were Harrigan, Figueroa-Valdez, Beazer, and Skelton. Two defendants, Confessor and Gallego, were arrested in New York earlier today, and one defendant (Velasquez-Ramirez) was arrested in Miami, Florida. The alleged leader of the drug trafficking organization, Roberto Mendez-Hurtado, was arrested on Sunday, August 21, 2011, in Cuenca, Ecuador, and deported to Bogota, Colombia.
According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to transport by airplane multi-hundred kilogram loads of cocaine from Apure, Venezuela, to the British Virgin Islands, where the cocaine was dropped into the ocean off the coast. The co-conspirators then used fast boats to retrieve the cocaine from the Caribbean Sea, with the intent that the cocaine would later be distributed in the United States.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer, joined by DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Shea, also announced the creation of the Southern District of Florida Caribbean Basin Initiative (“the Initiative”). In an effort to combat and deter any future surge in drug trafficking through the Caribbean Basin, the Initiative will focus on pro-actively identifying, investigating, and prosecuting current narco-traffickers that use the Caribbean Basin to effectuate the trans-shipment of narcotics to the United States.
As part of the Initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has specifically designated two experienced Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Narcotics Section to focus on narco-trafficking activities in this region. For their part, DEA and ICE-HSI will continue to devote the necessary resources to support the Initiative, continue to develop resources to collect area-wide intelligence, and promote international law enforcement cooperation.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration has historically had its sights on the Caribbean Basin. While the recent trends indicate that a majority of cocaine brought into the United States comes through Mexico and the Southwest United States border, we continue our efforts in the Caribbean region and appreciate the initiative of the United States Attorney’s Office and its pro-active strategy. Traffickers moved their routes to the Southwest border in the past because of law enforcement’s efforts and hope this recent indictment reminds traffickers that we are still here and vigilant,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer stated, “Through innovative investigative and prosecutorial techniques, South Florida has long been a leader in the fight against narco-traffickers. The creation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative is yet another example of how law enforcement in South Florida is taking proactive approaches to develop forward-looking strategies to stay ahead of the ever-changing face of narcotics trafficking.”
ICE Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Shea stated, “ICE-HSI has clearly seen a recent increase in maritime narcotics smuggling emanating from the Caribbean. With the focus and resources DHS has placed on the southwest border, it is natural to see smugglers revert to the Caribbean basin. This timely initiative will help law enforcement throughout South Florida to get ahead of this trend.”
An indictment is only an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.