Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Announcement of Violent Crime Initiative
June 24, 2004 - 10:30 am
When we think of the Caribbean, we think of a beautiful vacation destination--white sand beaches, shining blue waters, and gentle ocean breezes. Unfortunately, narcotics traffickers see the Caribbean as a potential drug gateway to the United States.
Today we are announcing that our cooperative international law enforcement efforts have put a stop to 10 percent of the illegal cocaine supply coming to the United States.
I am deeply appreciative to the men and women here with me for their indispensable and courageous help to halt the international flow of drugs. Joining me are:
- Director General Jaime A. Jacome de la Guardia from Panama;
- From Jamaica: Deputy Police Commissioner Lucius Thomas and Assistant Police Commissioner Errol Strong;
- From the Bahamas: Ambassador Joshua Sears, Permanent Secretary Peter Davaux-Isaccs, Police Commissioner Paul Farquharson, Director of Public Prosecutions Bernard Turner, Assistant Commissioner Reginal Ferguson, Superintendent of Police Raymond Gibson, Superintendent Hulan Hanna, and from the Bahamian Attorney General's Office Francis Cumberbatch;
- From the Dominican Republic: General Blas Cruz-Duran and Lead Investigator Rafael Ubiera-Peralta; and
- From Canada: Staff Sergeant Andre Potvin.
On behalf of the American people, I thank you for your dedication to the rule of law and to stopping illegal drugs from destroying lives and dreams.
In October of 2003, Elias Cobos-Munoz was designated as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target of the United States. That designation put him on a list that identifies the operational leaders and the command-and-control structures of the most significant international drug and money-laundering organizations threatening this country. Once on that list, the organizations and their leaders become priority targets for the combined law enforcement efforts of the United States government.
Today, we are announcing the indictment of Elias Cobos-Munoz and nearly 50 other suspected high-level drug traffickers. Elias Cobos-Munoz was arrested June 21 in Colombia and is awaiting extradition to the Southern District of Florida to stand trial. He and his co-defendants are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The indictment unsealed today alleges that since July 2000, Elias Cobos-Munoz, Hernan Cobos-Munoz, Miguel Umbacia-Salgado,Jose Antonio Herrera-Hernandez and 17 other key associates operated a vast cocaine-supply network.
This Cobos-Munoz organization is believed to be responsible for shipping multi-ton quantities of cocaine into the United States from the North Coast region of Colombia. The Cobos-Munoz organization allegedly generated nearly $145 million in proceeds from its drug trafficking activities. The superseding indictment against the Cobos-Munoz supply organization, which was returned on June 1, 2004, charges all defendants with:
- conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine,
- conspiracy to import cocaine, and
- conspiracy to commit various money laundering offenses.
In addition, 21 members of the Maycock/Smith organization, an alleged cocaine-transportation organization based In the Bahamas, have been indicted. This organization, headed by defendants Melvin Maycock and Pedro Smith, allegedly transported multi-hundred kilogram quantities of cocaine via maritime and air methods from the North Coast of Colombia, via Jamaica and the Bahamas, to distribution cells in New York.
The indictment against the transporters was returned on April 1, 2004, and also unsealed today, charges defendants Melvin Maycock, Pedro Smith and 19 other key associates of the Maycock/Smith organization with:
- conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana,
- conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and
- various other substantive drug offenses.
These indictments are the culmination of a 29-month-long international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force--or OCDETF--investigation. OCDETF is a multi-agency task force that combines the resources of seven law enforcement agencies from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, along with state and local law enforcement. The investigation was coordinated by the multi-agency Special Operations Division.
The indictments of the Cobos-Munoz and Maycock/Smith operations also mark the successful conclusion of two of eight operations in the DEA's "Caribbean Initiative." The two operations carry the amusing code names Operation Busted Manatee and Operation Double Talk. The Caribbean Initiative, and these operations in particular, were designed to attack simultaneously every aspect of trafficking organizations--from the sources of supply in Colombia, to the transportation groups in the Caribbean, to the U.S.-based distribution networks.
The indictments are the result of coordinated law enforcement by the governments of the United States, Colombia, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Canada, and Panama in our united effort to close the Caribbean corridor to drug smugglers.
For all those in every nation who believe in hope, law, and the preciousness of life, these indictments represent a significant victory over the culture of crime, corruption, and death that is fueled by illicit drugs.
Over the past several days, agents of the DEA, as well as various foreign law enforcement authorities, executed arrest warrants for the leaders of the Cobos-Munoz organization in Colombia, Panama, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the United States and Canada. In addition, more than55 search warrants were executed in conjunction with the arrests.
To date, Operation Busted Manatee and Double Talk have resulted in the seizure of 14,385 pounds of cocaine, 2,665 pounds of marijuana, more than one million doses of heroin, and more than $36 million in U.S. currency and related assets. The organizations in these operations supplied three metric tons of cocaine a month--enough to supply every high school student and adult in the United States with one dose of cocaine for every month they were in operation. And they were in operation for years.
Total seizures in the Caribbean Initiative all together come to more than $85,192,955.40.
The majority of the indicted defendants will be brought to trial in the Southern District of Florida, whose U.S. Attorney, Marcos Daniel Jimenez along with his narcotics team have led this effort.
As part of Operation Busted Manatee and Operation Double Talk, the Criminal Division's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and the U.S. attorneys in the Southern and Western Districts of New York have charged several other individuals associated with the Cobos-Munoz organization, including one of the pilots for the organization.
These indictments are strong evidence that our Consolidated Priority Organization Target strategy is working. First, we identify the priority target. Next, we go after the upper echelon of the organization as well as its key associates both internationally and in the United States to cripple operations. Finally, we attack the money laundering networks and financial infrastructure.
The Caribbean Initiative has resulted in the indictment and arrest of three other CPOT targets, in addition to Cobos-Munoz, and the total dismantling of at least one CPOT organization. We will be anxious to assess the impact of these enforcement actions today on the operations of the remaining organizations. Since we initiated our strategy in 2002, we have dismantled eight CPOT organizations, and severely disrupted the activities of another seven. We hope to add the Cobos-Munoz organization to that list of accomplishments. And we will not rest until all 41 "most wanted" drug organizations have been destroyed.
With our prosecution of organizations such as Cobos-Munoz and Maycock/Smith, and with our drug eradication and other enforcement efforts, our ultimate goal is to see the flow of drugs to this country dwindle. The early signs are that we are moving toward that goal. Indeed, according to the "Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement" published by ONDCP in May 2004, the flow of cocaine from South America is believed to have dropped in 2003.
The success of this strategy demonstrates the significant progress that can result when law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts are linked and coordinated across national, regional and international boundaries.
I thank Director John Walters of the ONDCP and Karen Tandy, Administrator of the DEA.
I am grateful to the DEA and the men and women of the Special Operations Division for their tremendous effort not only in these two operations, but throughout the course of the Caribbean Initiative. In addition, I thank the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service and our many partners in state and local law enforcement.
I am also grateful to Marcos Jimenez, U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida, and the other U.S. Attorney's offices, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, and the state and local prosecutors who assisted them.
Finally, I commend the governments and law enforcement agencies of the Bahamas, Panama, Canada, Jamaica, and Colombia for their dedication and support in this truly multi-national effort against the evils of drug trafficking.