Cocaine Worth $70 Million Seized in Undercover Investigation
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Two dock workers unloading $70 million worth of Colombian cocaine were actually undercover agents posing as drug dealers and when it was over three men were arrested and 246 kilograms had been confiscated.
The undercover agents, Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr. told reporters Wednesday, had accepted a bribe of cocaine worth $250,000 in order to prove they were part of the illegal operation.
Preate said the cocaine, compressed and sealed in more than 100 packages, prevented at least 500,000 individual doses of the illegal drug from reaching men, women and children in the streets of cities in the eastern United States.
The three men were arrested Tuesday night when they attempted to take possession of the cocaine after it was unloaded from the Merkua Lake, a Liberian-registered container ship at a northeast Philadelphia dock.
The ship had been tracked from Colombia to a stop at Port Everglades, Fla., and then into Philadelphia.
″The seizure was the result of a seven-month investigation involving more than 60 agents which broke a deal with Colombia’s Cali Cartel, the largest manufacturer of cocaine in the world, to import 1,000 kilos of cocaine a month into the Philadelphia port,″ Preate said.
″The planned monthly haul would have brought in cocaine which, when cut, could energize street sales of more than $200 million.
″This case is especially significant from an investigative standpoint since the seizure occurred not because someone stumbled on drugs during a routine cargo search, but because of a careful, coordinated, courageous undercover probe.″
Preate said the agents, for their help in getting the drugs off the ship, were promised a monthly supply of cocaine valued at $1 million as their payoff.
″The agents assumed roles as drug dealers who had access to the Philadelphia port and could arrange to smuggle multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine into the country for the Colombian drug traffickers,″ the attorney general said.
Arrested were Jorge Figeroa, 32, Queens, N.Y., born in Cali and identified as the ringleader; Carlos Jacob Sanchez, 28, Edison, N.J., and Javier Ruiz Avila, 27, Woodside, N.Y. All were held without bail pending a hearing.
They were charged with importation of cocaine and possession to distribute which carry maximum life sentences, and U.S. Attorney Michael Baylson, promising quick indictments and possible other arrests as the investigation continues, said ″this case is headed for prosecution in federal court.″
″This challenges us to be especially vigilant in our efforts to intercept these large drug shipments before they reach the hands of the mid-level and street-level dealers,″ said Preate, whose narcotics task force spearheaded the investigation. ″Drug traffickers will attempt to penetrate our borders wherever they see an opening.
″Being able to strike blows such as this one at the upper levels in the drug distribution chain is critically important. It sends a loud, clear message that we’re not concentrating only on the street-level dealers.″