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THIRTEEN INDICTED FOR AIRDROPPING MULTI-HUNDRED KILOGRAM QUANTITIES OF COCAINE IN THE CARIBBEAN SEA AND FOR MONEY LAUNDERING OFFENSES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 25, 2011

U.S. Attorney Launches Caribbean Basin Initiative; Targets Narco-Traffickers Utilizing the Caribbean to Transship Narcotics to the United States

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, announce the unsealing of a July 15, 2011 indictment against thirteen 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.

A total of nine defendants have been arrested. 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. Four defendants remain at large.

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.

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.”

“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.

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.”

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the DEA and ICE-HSI, and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force who were supported by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Gregorie and Kelly Karase.

Today’s case, part of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, is a result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The OCDETF mission is to identify, investigate, and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking and money laundering enterprises, bringing together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement.

Attachments:
Indictment (PDF)

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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