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Customs agent makes “Miami Vice” style stop of drug boat at sea

December 10, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ Crockett and Tubbs of ``Miami Vice″ couldn’t have done it any better.

A Customs agent, chasing a suspected drug smuggler off the coast of Miami on Monday night, managed to stop the boat _ with one leg aboard his own vessel and one leg aboard the other _ as they bounced through the choppy seas at 20 mph.

The agent _ whose identity the Customs Service wants kept secret _ had to make the straddling stop because the smuggling suspect dived into the ocean after he was rammed by the smaller Customs boat.

After stopping the smuggler’s boat in ``Miami Vice″ style, the agent had to dive back aboard his own vessel before it sped away.

``It’s one of the most spectacular chases I remember, and I’ve been here a long time,″ Keith Prager, Customs’ acting special agent in charge, said Tuesday.

It also was productive. Customs agents seized cocaine worth more than $17 million from the boat abandoned by the smuggler and a smaller boat that was also allegedly involved in the operation.

The suspect hadn’t been found Tuesday. Prager said he could have swam about a mile to shallow flats and walked to shore.

The episode began when a Coast Guard plane spotted a boat with no lights speeding toward the Florida coast from the Bahamas.

The Coast Guard notified Customs, and agents began following the boat. They watched as it met up with another vessel with no lights, a 30-foot boat coming from Miami.

A short time later, the smugglers made a second transfer, onto a 19-foot single-engine skiff.

That’s when Customs agents decided to move in. The smaller boat was caught, and two men aboard arrested.

But the larger vessel sped away, headed toward deeper water, and the agent _ a 20-year Customs veteran _ gave chase, sometimes at 55 mph.

The man aboard the drug boat dived into the Atlantic after the agent rammed his boat, disabling its motors.

``These smugglers were experienced,″ Prager said. ``He knew exactly where he was and he knew how far he’d have to swim, and that he could get to the flats and walk.″

The two men aboard the other boat _ Nelson Acosta, 33, and Richard Fong, 31, both of Miami _ face charges of illegal importation of a controlled substance and conspiracy to possess and distribute drugs.

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