Three Panamanians Arrested in Alleged Cocaine Smuggling Scheme
MACON, Ga. (AP) _ A former diplomat and a prominent businessman were among three Panamanians who have been charged with conspiring to smuggle $300 million in cocaine into the United States, authorities said.
The three were arrested Thursday after undercover agents lured them to Georgia with promises of a major drug deal, said Ronald Caffrey, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency office in Atlanta.
″It’s the biggest case I’ve ever been associated with of this type and, as far as I know, the biggest of this type in this area,″ said Bibb County Sheriff Ray Wilkes.
The three were identified as Manuel Jose Castillo-Bourcy, 52; Juan Karamanides, 35; and Carlos Eleta-Lopez, 70. All are from Panama City, Panama.
A hearing was scheduled Monday before a U.S. Magistrate in Macon. Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Fowler said the government will ask that bond be denied for all three suspects.
Caffrey said Castillo-Bourcy was Panama’s former ambassador to Belize. Karamanides was described as a businessman, while Caffrey said Eleta-Lopez is president of General Mills in Panama and owns a television station and racetrack there.
Eleta-Lopez also founded Panama’s Partido Laborista (PALA), a right-wing political faction, in 1982.
″We’re dealing with people who are very well-known professionals and business people,″ Wilkes said.
They are each charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiring to bring into the United States 1,320 pounds of cocaine. Wilkes said no cocaine was seized in the arrests.
″It’s not in this country. The conspiracy’s enough for the arrests,″ he said.
Wilkes said the men were arrested after flying from Panama to Atlanta and then traveling to Macon by limousine. The arrests followed an undercover investigation involving the Bibb County narcotics squad as well as the DEA, the U.S. Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service.