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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Produce Importer Convicted in Brooklyn Federal Court of Conspiring to Import Cocaine in a Shipment of Chili Peppers

Defendant Referred in Code to 16 Kilograms of Cocaine as “Ripe Tomatoes”

Earlier today, following a two-week trial, a federal jury in Brooklyn returned a guilty verdict against Humberto Baez for conspiring to import and distribute cocaine, and for possessing with intent to distribute cocaine, in connection with his participation in a scheme responsible for smuggling 16 kilograms of cocaine into the United States through the Dominican Republic in February 2018.  When sentenced by United States District Judge Jack B. Weinstein, the defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Ray Donovan, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Field Division (DEA), announced the verdict.

“The defendant’s scheme to conceal 16 kilograms of cocaine in a shipment of chili peppers wasn’t such a hot idea, and with today’s verdict, he has been held responsible for his crimes,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “I commend the prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration agents for their excellent work in preventing illegal narcotics from being distributed in our country.” 

“Drug traffickers go to extraordinary lengths to bring poison into our country,” stated DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Donovan.  “The DEA has seen smuggling groups conceal drugs in bananas, floor tiles, exotic statues and even animals.  This conviction sends a message to drug trafficking organizations that law enforcement is on watch.  I applaud the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and our law enforcement partners in their diligent efforts to bring Baez and other drug traffickers to justice.”

Between August 2016 and March 2018, Baez, a produce importer based in Pennsylvania, conspired with others to import cocaine, hidden inside a shipping container, into the United States.  In furtherance of the conspiracy, Baez contacted an individual who, unbeknownst to Baez was cooperating with the DEA, to use the individual’s importing company as a front to transport cocaine from Baez’s source of supply in the Dominican Republic.  Baez and his co-conspirators then set up two “dry run” shipments containing only produce into the Red Hook Terminal in Brooklyn, to establish the appearance of a legitimate business relationship between the exporter and importer and not attract scrutiny when subsequently shipping cocaine.  In late February 2018, a third shipment arrived in Miami, Florida with approximately 16 kilograms of cocaine concealed in cardboard boxes containing chili peppers.  Baez informed the cooperator that the third shipment contained “ripe tomatoes,” using agreed upon code words for cocaine, and instructed him to transport the narcotics by truck to Baez’s warehouse in Pennsylvania.  On March 1, 2018, law enforcement officers searched the container and seized the hidden cocaine. 

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics & Money Laundering Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Nomi D. Berenson and Erin M. Reid are in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendant:

Age:  50
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-cr-168 (JBW)

John Marzulli Tyler Daniels United States Attorney’s Office (718) 254-6323
Updated February 14, 2019