Federal drug agents and the territory’s Blue Lightning marine unit took part in an operation Tuesday that intercepted a ship carrying more than a ton and a half of cocaine, and the three suspects who were arrested will be tried on St. Croix.
Tim Williams, resident in charge of the St. Croix DEA/HIDTA office, said he couldn’t discuss details of the case because it is still under investigation. He did, however, offer an overview of what he called "a substantial seizure of drugs."
The DEA/HIDA Task Force – or Drug Enforcement Agency/High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Task Force, which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration and the V.I. Police Department – received information about the drug shipment through channels Williams couldn’t discuss.
Working in conjunction with Dutch Netherlands Antilles Coast Guard, the agents intercepted a "go-fast vessel" traveling north from Venezuela in open waters. On board they found three men – one a Venezuelan national and two Dominican nationals – and 1,453 kg of cocaine (3,163.63 pounds), with an estimated street value of more than $40 million.
"At the DEA’s request, the vessel and the drugs were taken to St. Maarten’s in the Netherlands Antilles … and at this juncture DEA has taken possession of the cocaine," Williams said. "The three defendants are awaiting extradition to St. Croix to stand trial."
Williams said extradition is rarely an issue between the jurisdictions. St. Croix is the closest U.S. jurisdiction, and the U.S. Attorney’s office on the island has accepted prosecution.
"The U.S. Department of Justice is working directly with the Dutch authorities for expediting the extradition," Williams said.
Williams estimated the St. Croix "wholesale" value of the seized drugs at about $15,000 a kilogram, or about $21 million. On the street in any East Coast or European city, he said, the value would be between $30,000 and $35,000 a kilogram, giving it a conservative value of more than $40 million.