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News Release [printer friendly page]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 2006
Contact: Special Agent Steve Robertson
DEA Public Affairs
202-307-7977

Three Islands, $70 Million in Assets Seized in DEA Drug Bust
‘Operation Twin Oceans’ nets Most-Wanted Kingpin and 52 Tons of Cocaine
Brazil, Colombia, Panama & U.S. Involved in Arrests

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These islands, owned by the Rayo-Montano organization, and located off the coast of Panama were seized by the Panama Authorities with the assistance of the DEA.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today announced the results of Operation Twin Oceans, a multi-jurisdictional investigation that targeted the Pablo RAYO-Montano drug trafficking organization (DTO), a cocaine ring responsible for smuggling more than 15 tons of cocaine per month from Colombia to the streets of the United States and Europe. An international coalition spearheaded by the Brazilian Federal Police, Panamanian Judicial Police, Colombian National Police, and DEA was responsible for dismantling this international drug cartel. This 3-year long investigation has resulted in over 100 arrests and the seizure of 47,555 kilograms of cocaine or the equivalent of 52 tons of cocaine, and nearly $70 million in assets.

As part of Operation Twin Oceans, three islands off the coast of Panama, personally owned by the RAYO-Montano organization, were seized. Additional seizures included assets such as yachts, fishing trawlers, art galleries, the largest fishing and boating store in Panama, and other commercial properties and businesses owned by the RAYO-Montano Organization.

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Submersible used by the Rayo-Montano organization.
 
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Close-up of the hatch on the submersible.

"The Rayo-Montano organization had its own private, rogue navy to run a drug business that was nearly as sophisticated as a small nation,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. “As well-equipped and complex as this enterprise was, it was a matter of time before law enforcement caught on, and now Rayo-Montano’s decadent, drug-funded lifestyle has caught up with him. This morning, his real estate holdings went from three islands to one jail cell."

“Don Pablo” RAYO-Montano was the commander and controller of a 21st Century criminal organization whose Information Technology-literate managers used highly sophisticated methods to coordinate the movement of cocaine north and illegal drug proceeds south. In addition, the organization has been associated with Colombian narco-terrorist organizations such as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Norte del Valle Cartel.

RAYO-Montano was designated as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT) in October 2005. He was arrested by the Sensitive Investigations Unit (SIU) of the Brazilian Federal Police in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at his residence early Tuesday morning. The CPOT program is the cornerstone of the U.S. Department of Justice’s drug enforcement priority targeting strategy. In March 2002, the Office of the Attorney General announced a comprehensive six-part drug enforcement strategy designed to identify and target the world’s most significant drug supply organizations and their related components. The central element of the strategy was the development of the CPOT List, a rogue’s gallery of international kingpins who were responsible for the “command and control” of the most sophisticated and far reaching drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. RAYO-Montano is the 42nd arrest of a CPOT since the inception of the program.

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U.S. Coast Guard RHIB (right) intercepts a go-fast boat which had 744 kilos of cocaine on it.

"Operation Twin Oceans sends a strong message from the U.S. Department of Justice to narcotics traffickers: we will seize your ill-gotten property, and we will take away the rewards of your violent trade," said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Department of Justice Criminal Division.

Operation Twin Oceans revealed a far-reaching cocaine trafficking and money laundering organization based out of Colombia that used a vast array of vessels to smuggle multi-ton loads of cocaine to the United States and Europe. RAYO-Montano started as a simple drug transporter in Buenaventura, Colombia almost two decades ago and evolved into the head of a world-wide criminal cartel. RAYO-Montano masterminded a comprehensive infrastructure that included all aspects of the cocaine trafficking hierarchy, to include production, international transportation/smuggling, wholesale distribution and money laundering. Maritime transshipment originated on both the west and northern coasts of Colombia and utilized fast boats, fishing boats, submersibles, and containerized cargo vessels, hence, the operational name “Twin Oceans.”

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744 kilos of cocaine seized.
 
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One of the many assets seized as part of Operation Twin Oceans.

As a result of outstanding international cooperation, Operation Twin Oceans was able to identify, target and dismantle all levels of criminal activity, from the Colombian source of supply to wholesale distributors in our local communities. Throughout the early morning hours of May 16, 2006, members of the RAYO-Montano organization were awakened with the execution of arrest and search warrants by international, federal, state and local law enforcement officers.

Indictments were returned in Operation Twin Oceans by grand juries supervised by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section in Washington D.C. The charges include money laundering, and conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. If convicted, the defendants prosecuted in this investigation will face sentences ranging from a mandatory minimum of 10 years up to life imprisonment.

The law enforcement team in Operation Twin Oceans included an international coalition of investigative agencies spearheaded by DEA offices located in Miami, FL, Tampa, FL, New York, NY, Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, Indianapolis, IN, Cartagena and Bogota, Colombia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, San Jose, Costa Rica, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Guayaquil, Ecuador, Mexico City, Mexico, Panama City, Panama, Caracas, Venezuela, and Madrid, Spain. Critical to the successful conclusion of the operation were the efforts of the Sensitive Investigations Unit (SIU) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Colombian National Police Antinarcotics Judicial Unit in Cartagena, Colombia, the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS) and Office of International Affairs (OIA), and our international law enforcement partners located in the countries of Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and Venezuela. Strategic intelligence and operational support was provided by the DEA Special Operations Division based in Washington, D.C., the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy.

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