Warehouse Raid Yields Largest Drug Seizure Outside Florida
HICKSVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ Law enforcers say luck was with them when they made what is believed to be the nation’s largest drug seizure outside Florida, a 6,000-pound shipment of pure cocaine hidden inside blocks of chocolate.
″It was a cold hit,″ said Peter Baish, the agent in charge of the U.S. Customs Service office in New Jersey, whose inspectors, working on a hunch, found the drugs.
Authorities announced the seizure Friday, which they said has a retail value of about $480 million. The raid is likely to drive up the price of cocaine in the New York area this summer, they said.
Three Colombian nationals, believed to be members of a major Colombian drug cartel, were arrested when 50 agents raided the Toronto Imports warehouse, said Robert Stutman, agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York.
U.S. Customs inspectors stumbled upon the cocaine during a routine check aboard the ship Allison Lykes at a port in Newark, N.J., on June 24, Baish said.
Agents paid special attention to the shipment, 1,200 cartons marked ″unsweetened Ecuadorean coca chocolate,″ because Ecuador is a source of cocaine, he said.
They drilled into one of the cardboard boxes and hit a metal box hidden in the core of the hardened chocolate, said Baish.
Agents opened up the carton and found the cocaine inside the metal box, he said. They resealed the box and kept a surveillance on the shipment with the help of electronic monitoring devices.
The contraband was picked up Thursday by a trucking company hired by the smugglers. A team of narcotics agents then followed the trucks to the Hicksville warehouse, said Art Stiffel of U.S. Customs in New York.
The investigation determined that the drivers were not part of the drug scheme, Stiffel said.
Stutman declined to say whether Toronto Imports was connected to the scheme. He said more arrests were expected.
Each carton weighed about 66 pounds. Each package of cocaine within weighed about six pounds and was marked with the initials of the person who had ordered it, said Stiffel. Stutman said at least 779 of the 1,200 cartons contained cocaine.
A few hours after unloading the truck, the suspects began moving out four or five of the cartons and placing them into cars.
At this point the agents moved in and arrested the unarmed defendants: Oscar Nunez, 28, of New Yorks’ Queens Borough; Absalon Borrero, 42, of Miami; and Jaime Caro, 48, of Anz, Colombia.
All three were charged with importation and distribution of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. They were ordered held without bail at their arraignment before U.S. Magistrate A. Simon Chrein in Brooklyn Borough.
Stutman said the suspects were believed to be members of the Ochoa family of Medellin, Colombia, one of three leaders in cocaine trafficking.
Officials believe the cocaine was produced in Colombia and shipped to Ecuador, where it was concealed in the cocoa powder bricks.
″This is the largest seizure in the U.S. outside of Florida,″ said Stutman.
The largest haul of cocaine on record was made in May, when authorities seized 8,800 pounds in Tarpon Springs, Fla.