Eleven Members of Colombian Heroin Trafficking Organization Arrested Following Joint Investigation by U.s. and Colombia
Heroin Concealed in Shipments of Kidney Beans, Beach Bags, and Trailer Hitches
BROOKLYN, NY – Eleven individuals in New York and Colombia were arrested today on federal criminal charges for their participation in one of the largest Colombian heroin trafficking organizations in the United States.1 The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that from mid-2006 to the present, the organization was responsible for shipping more than 250 kilograms of heroin from Colombia to the U.S. The defendants arrested today include HECTOR VIDAL YEPES-CASAS, the alleged leader of the New York-based cell of the organization, seven Colombian-based heroin suppliers, two of the organization’s largest customers, and one of the organization’s money launderers. Today’s arrests effectively dismantled the entire drug trafficking organization.
The arrests are the product of a coordinated, year-long investigation code-named “Operation Eliminacion,” conducted by the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, DEA in Connecticut and New Jersey, and the Colombian National Police, ANTIN Heroin Task Force. The Strike Force was formed in May 2004, with the stated purpose of identifying, targeting, and dismantling the world’s most sophisticated and powerful narcotics trafficking organizations. Consisting of more than 200 law enforcement officers from nine different federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies,2 the Strike Force combines the resources and talents of the participating agencies to bear against the largest suppliers of illegal drugs to the United States.
Investigative techniques utilized during the investigation included more than 40 court-ordered wiretaps in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Colombia. During the course of the investigation, on seven occasions federal agents seized heroin with a total street value of approximately $24 million. Concurrent with the defendants’ arrests, agents seized approximately one and one-half kilograms of heroin, and numerous drug presses and other narcotics trafficking paraphernalia from the homes of several of the defendants.
According to the DEA, while historically the primary source of heroin imported into the United States was Southeast and Southwest Asia, South American heroin now accounts for over 60% of the heroin seized in the United States. The investigation revealed that the defendants transported their heroin from Colombia to the United States, primarily through Panama and Guatemala. The heroin was concealed in various ways, including inside packages of red kidney beans, which were then resealed in their original cellophane wrappers, inside the beads of beaded beach bags, inside trailer hitches that had been opened and resealed, and inside automotive drive shafts.
“The combined efforts of law enforcement in Colombia and the United States identified a serious threat to both of our nations and dismantled one of the most significant heroin trafficking organizations operating in both countries,” stated United States Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf. “We stand committed to prosecuting to the fullest those who would bring illegal drugs into this country.” Ms. Mauskopf thanked the Strike Force, Drug Enforcement Administration Offices in Bogota, Connecticut, and New Jersey, the United States Attorney’s Offices in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Missouri, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Canine Units in New York and New Jersey, and the Colombian National Police for their extraordinary efforts in the investigation.
“Operation Eliminacion has successfully dismantled a heroin transportation organization whose clever and sophisticated drug trafficking methods surprised even law enforcement – from heroin filled trailer hitches to concealed heroin shaped and colored to look like dried kidney beans. However, this organization should not be praised for its ingenuity,” stated DEA Special Agent-in-Charge John P. Gilbride. “The DEA and our law enforcement partners are committed to addressing these new trafficking techniques, taking drugs off our streets, and putting those responsible in jail. As the operation’s name indicates, this organization has been eliminated.”
NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly stated, “Even as crime in New York City is driven to new record lows, we find that remaining crime, especially violent crime, is often tied to narcotics trafficking. A case of this magnitude helps decrease the threat even further and preserves the safety New Yorkers have come accustomed to in recent years.”
New York State Police Acting Superintendent Preston L. Felton, said, “As evidenced by today’s arrests, these multi-national police efforts play an important role in the ongoing war on drugs. During the past six months, this ongoing effort involving Colombian National Police and U.S. federal and state law enforcement agencies resulted in numerous arrests and multiple large seizures of heroin and cocaine in the United States and Colombia.”
In addition to YEPES-CASAS, the defendants include alleged heroin suppliers ALBEIRO DE JESUS CEBALLOS-PEREZ, AMADO ANTONIO ARENAS-PERAZZA, ELKIN ESCOBAR CASTANO, ALEJANDRO CUARTAS RESTREPO, PEDRO LUIS DUQUE-DUQUE, OLMER MAURICIO MIRA-ATEHORTUA, and JOSE ANGEL DE JESUS GOMEZ-MEDINA; alleged heroin customers FRANK NAGI and PEDRO RAMON RODRIGUEZ-ROJAS; and alleged organization money launderer MARGARITA SANTIAGO. One of the suppliers arrested in Colombia, MIRA-ATEHORTUA, has been identified as a former investigator with the Colombian National Prosecutor’s Office, which has responsibility for investigating, among other things, drug trafficking crimes.
If convicted, each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years’ imprisonment, and a $1 million fine.
The defendants arrested in New York today are scheduled to have their initial appearances this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Viktor V. Pohorelsky, at the U. S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Bonnie Klapper.
2DEA, New York City Police Department, Internal Revenue Service Criminal\
Investigation, Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York State Police, United States Marshals
Service, United State Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms &
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