News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 21, 2006
Contact: : DEA Public Affairs
Number: 212 337-2906

DEA Arrests Smugglers Hiding Heroin In Sandals, Furniture, Golf Bags, And Condom Swallowers

U.S. and Colombian Authorities Coordinate Arrest of 56 Members of Enterprise Charged in Manhattan Federal Court; $25 Million Worth Of Heroin and $3 Million in Cash Seized

Special Agent in Charge John Gilbride addresses the media at the press conference.
Special Agent in Charge John Gilbride addresses the media at the press conference.

JUN 21--(New York) - JOHN P. GILBRIDE, the Special Agent in Charge of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) in New York and MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with RAYMOND W. KELLY, Police Commissioner of New York City Police Department, and WAYNE E. BENNETT, Superintendent of the New York State Police (working collectively as the New York City Drug Enforcement Task Force (the “DEA Task Force”), announced today the results of “Operation Double Identity,” a coordinated takedown of an international heroin-trafficking organization responsible for smuggling tens of millions of dollars worth of heroin from Colombia into New York City.

According to SAC Gilbride, “Today, 56 members of this powerful heroin trafficking organization are in custody as a result of the coordinated efforts of the DEA Task Force and Colombian authorities. The criminal organization targeted in “Operation Double Identity” used highly-sophisticated smuggling methods to bring its heroin into the United States and ultimately to New York City.”

“They hid heroin in virtually everything but the kitchen sink -- in furniture shipments, the soles ofsandals, and golf bags, and also used human ‘swallowers’ to smuggle heroin pellets to the U.S. on board commercial airliners,” added Gilbride.

photo - Condoms (pictured here) were used to smuggle the heroin into New York and Florida.
Condoms (pictured here) were used to smuggle the heroin into New York and Florida.

The investigation began in the Summer of 2004 when Colombian authorities seized more than 50 pounds of heroin in Cali, Colombia.

Earlier this morning, Colombian authorities arrested nine leaders and 12 members of the organization who controlled the heroin supply from Cali, Colombia. In addition, the DEA Task Force simultaneously arrested nine additional members of the enterprise in New York City and Florida.

Prior to today’s arrests the task force arrested 26 members of the organization, all of whom are being prosecuted in Manhattan federal court. During the investigation, the DEA Task Force and Colombian authorities, assisted by officers with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol, in Florida, seized more than 250 pounds of the organization’s heroin – worth more than $25 million –- that was destined for New York City streets.

During a two-year investigation, the DEA Task Force, DEA’s Bogota, Colombia office, and Colombian authorities gathered evidence against the nine leaders of the organization based in Cali, Colombia, who controlled the heroin supply. According to the Charging Documents, the DEA Task Force also identified the organization’s New York City-based cells – one led by ROBERTO SOTO-BELTRAN and four associates; another led by JAIME LONDONO and ten associates –- who were responsible for receiving shipments of heroin from Colombia and then distributing the narcotics to the organization’s retail operations in the Bronx, New York. The enterprise’s Bronx-based retail business was led by JOSE RODRIGUEZ NIEVES, a/k/a “Cuba,” and 14 associates. Additionally, the DEA Task Force and Colombian authorities identified four Florida-based members of the organization who facilitated the transport of the Colombian heroin shipments to New York City.

These sandals were used to hide some of the $25 million dollars worth of heroin into the United States from Colombia. These sandals were used to hide some of the $25 million dollars worth of heroin into the United States from Colombia.
These sandals were used to hide some of the $25 million dollars worth of heroin into the United States from Colombia.

In addition to dismantling the Colombian supply side of the organization, and arresting members of the U.S.-based distribution cells, the DEA Task Force, in January and February 2005, dismantled the retail operations of the organization allegedly led by JOSE RODRIGUEZ NIEVES in the Bronx, New York. During this phase of the investigation, the DEA Task Force identified RODRIGUEZ NIEVES’ stash houses in the Bronx and heroin mills in Queens, and seized packaged heroin destined for New York City streets, as well as more than 20 “stamps” used to brand the heroin for sale. After RODRIGUEZ NIEVES and the 15 members of his retail crew were arrested, the DEA Task Force seized approximately $3 million in profits from the heroin sales in the form of United States Currency and watches, jewelry, and luxury cars that RODRIGUEZ NIEVES had purchased. Photographs of the heroin, stamps, and United States Currency, watches, and jewelry recovered by the DEA Task Force are attached.

Some of the $3 million in cash seized as part of Operation Double Identity.

If convicted, all the charged defendants face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment on the heroin-trafficking charges. Based on the terms of the extradition arrangement between the United States and Colombia, the United States will provide assurances to Colombia that it will not seek a life sentence with respect to the nine leaders of the organization provisionally arrested today in Cali, Colombia. RODRIGUEZ NIEVES and a number of the members of his retail cell also face an additional mandatory sentence of five years imprisonment, and in some cases additional terms of incarceration, for various firearms charges.

The prosecutions are being handled by three Units of the United States Attorney’s Office –- the International Narcotics Unit, the Narcotics Unit, and the Violent Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys DANIEL STEIN, CHRISTINE MEDING, and REED BRODSKY are in charge of the prosecutions.

Note: The charges contained in the Charging Documents unsealed today are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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