Eight charged with importing cocaine concealed in food cans through airports
ATLANTA - Anthony Rondel Blair, Jason Arias, Daniel Newton, David Lomba Barros, Angelica Dominique Cuyugan Tuzon, Shondra Vernon, Michelle Rosa, and Madison Renee Kelleher have been indicted for their roles in a criminal network that imported cocaine into the United States from Costa Rica and laundered the proceeds.
“These defendants allegedly imported dozens of multi-kilogram cocaine shipments within food cans through several U.S. airports including Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the Charlotte, Raleigh, and Miami airports,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Through the combined efforts of our law enforcement partners, this network has been disrupted and its members will be brought to justice. Even in the midst of the nation’s opioid epidemic, we are reminded that cocaine importation and distribution remains a national problem and a priority of this office.”
Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division stated, “This criminal network posed a clear and present danger to the safety of the citizens in this country and abroad. Their removal makes the affected communities safer. This successful investigation illustrates how success can be achieved through law enforcement collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
“Identifying and intercepting transnational drug traffickers is one of Homeland Security Investigations’ highest priorities to protect the public from the serious harm criminals inflict without any regard for the violence and public health damage they cause,” said Special Agent in Charge of HSI Atlanta Nick S. Annan. ”The scale of this case illustrates the lengths to which criminal organizations will go as well as the interagency coordination that exists between federal, state and local law enforcement partners to identify and stop them.”
“The mission of CBP here in the Southeast and across the country is to safeguard America’s borders,” said Don Yando, Atlanta Director of CBP Field Operations. “This is yet another example of how our multi-agency partnerships and collaboration support CBP's mission of protecting the American public. We are proud to continue the work of uncovering and dismantling these types of transnational criminal organizations.”
“We will not allow our airport to be used as a hub for the spread of illegal narcotics to our communities,” said Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields. “I commend our officers for their efforts on the ground, and to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for aggressively pursuing these cases.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges, and other information presented in court: the indictment alleges that Blair organized groups of individuals to fly to Costa Rica from Atlanta. While in Costa Rica, Arias met with some of the conspirators and provided each with approximately four kilograms of cocaine hidden inside sealed food cans and concealed within the travelers’ checked luggage. Once the Atlanta-based travelers returned to the United States, they delivered the cans to Blair who prepared the cocaine for distribution in the Atlanta area and elsewhere. The network also had been operating in Charlotte and Boston.
Law enforcement documented over 90 separate trips for this group, and it is estimated that the conspiracy imported over 375 kilograms of cocaine into the United States using this smuggling technique.
Anthony Rondel Blair, 40, Shondra Vernon and a/k/a Frenchie, 30, both of Atlanta, Georgia, Michelle Rosa, 36, of Jonesboro, Georgia, Jason Arias, 35, and Daniel Newton, a/k/a Russia, 29, both of Charlotte, North Carolina, David Lomba Barros, 32, and Madison Renee Kelleher, 27, of Boston, Massachusetts, and Angelica Dominique Cuyugan Tuzon, 25, of Reston, Virginia, were indicted by a federal grand jury on March 27, 2019. Vernon and Rosa were arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janet F. King. Blair is scheduled to be arraigned on April 12, 2019, also before Judge King. The remaining defendants appeared in federal courts in Charlotte, Boston, and Alexandria, Virginia.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the DEA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Atlanta Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan M. Christian is prosecuting the case.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta recommends parents and children learn about the dangers of drugs at the following web site: www.justthinktwice.gov.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.