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Cocaine Worth $70 Million on Street Seized in Undercover Investigation

September 4, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ With the help of two undercover agents, officials have crippled a Colombian drug ring’s plans for Philadelphia while seizing $70 million in cocaine from a ship, authorities said Wednesday.

The two agents posed as drug-dealing dock workers willing to help get the cocaine off ships in exchange for $1 million in cocaine each month. The initial connection set off a seven-month investigation by 60 agents, ending with the seizure Tuesday night.

″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,″ Attorney General Ernie Preate said.

Agents arrested three men trying to take possession of the 246 kilograms of cocaine after it was unloaded from the Merkua Lake, a Liberian-registered container ship, authorities said.

The ship had been tracked from Colombia to a stop at Port Everglades, Fla., and then into Philadelphia.

Preate said the shipments were the product of the Cali cartel, which planned to import 1,000 kilos, or 2,200 pounds, into the city each month.

″The planned monthly haul would have brought in cocaine which, when cut, could energize street sales of more than $200 million,″ he said.

The seizure Tuesday night was described by Sam Billbrough of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as the largest here in recent years and ″very, very dangerous for our agents.″

Arrested were Jorge Figeroa, 32, of the New York City borough of Queens; Carlos Jacob Sanchez, 28, of Edison, N.J.; and Javier Ruiz Avila, 27, of Woodside, N.Y.

All were held without bail pending a hearing.

Authorities identified Figeroa, a native of Cali, Colombia, as the ringleader.

The three were charged with importation of cocaine and possession to distribute, which carry maximum life sentences, and U.S. Attorney Michael Baylson.

Baylson said further arrests could follow.

Preate said the cocaine, compressed and sealed in more than 100 packages, translated into 500,000 doses.

″Being able to strike blows such as this one at the upper levels in the drug distribution chain is critically important,″ Preate said. ″It sends a loud, clear message that we’re not concentrating only on the street-level dealers.″

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