Federal Authorities Seize $5.7 Million In Cocaine, Detain Two Smugglers
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –U.S. Magistrate Marcos E. López authorized a complaint charging Raddif Tapia-Rivera and Estevan DeCarlos with conspiracy to import 242 kilograms of cocaine, announced Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized a 469 pound cocaine shipment, a go-fast vessel, and apprehended two men following an at-sea interdiction 22 nautical miles southeast of Vieques, Puerto Rico Sunday morning. Federal law enforcement authorities involved in the interdiction were working in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group's (CBIG) Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force. The seized cocaine shipment was estimated to have a street value of approximately $5.7 million dollars, while the men detained claimed to be U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico.
“The US Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement counterparts remain committed to using every law enforcement tool available to attack these criminal organizations and ensure that drug traffickers and their associates are brought to justice for the damage they inflict on our communities,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
“Our effective interagency coordination efforts and aggressive patrolling of international and jurisdictional waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow us to successfully interdict these shipments at sea and bring those responsible to justice,” said Capt. Drew W. Pearson, Commander, Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “Our resolve and commitment are unwavering as we stand watch twenty-four seven to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats delivered by the sea.”
While on a routine patrol in the Caribbean Sea late Saturday night, the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) from Air Station Miami detected a 25-foot go-fast vessel, with two outboard engines and two subjects onboard, traveling northwest without any navigation lights, approximately 115 nautical miles southeast of Vieques. Coast Guard Sector San Juan Watchstanders, notified of the developing situation, diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark to interdict the suspect vessel. A CBP Office of Air and Marine operations marine unit, with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent onboard also responded, while Puerto Rico Police Joint Force for Rapid Actions, along the east coast of Puerto Rico, were alerted and ready to respond in the case the go-fast vessel entered Puerto Rico jurisdictional waters.
The Coast Guard MPA maintained constant surveillance as the Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark arrived on scene and intercepted the go-fast vessel, approximately 22 nautical miles southeast of Vieques. The crew of the Reef Shark located the suspected illegal drug shipment in plain sight, a total of seven bales, and detained Tapia-Rivera y DeCarlos. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine.
Custody of the two defendants, the narcotics, and the go-fast vessel were transferred by the Reef Shark to Special Agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for further investigation and prosecution.
The Reef Shark is an 87-foot coastal patrol boat homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
If convicted, the defendants could face from 10 years up to life in prison. A criminal complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.