A man claiming to be a St. Croix resident was arrested Sunday morning in the first of two seizures of drug-carrying "go fast" boats that netted millions of dollars in cocaine and marijuana, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.
The Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations seized a "go-fast" vessel and 30 bales of marijuana and arrested two men following an at-sea interdiction in the Caribbean Sea Sunday morning.
Federal law enforcement authorities, working in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group’s Operation Caribbean Guard, interdicted the 750-pound illegal drug shipment. The two men aboard, a Jamaican national and a U.S. citizen claiming to be a resident of Saint Croix, were taken into custody on Puerto Rico. The drug shipment is estimated to have a street value of $1.8 million, according to the Coast Guard. The suspects’ names were not released.
"Our collective resolve and coordinated efforts within the Caribbean Border Interagency Group continue to deliver successful outcomes and allow us to interdict major drug shipments at sea as far from shore as possible,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, Sector San Juan commander. “In this case the aggressive patrolling by our partners at the Caribbean Air and Martine Branch led to our interagency success.”
According to the Coast Guard report, the crew of a Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft on routine patrol detected the vessel operating with no navigational lights and carrying suspected contraband, approximately 50 nautical miles south of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Coast Guard Sector San Juan watchstanders, notified of the developing situation by the crew of the Customs and Border Protection aircraft, diverted the Coast Guard cutters Reliance and Farallon to interdict the suspect vessel.
The Reliance arrived on scene and launched its cutter boat to pursue and interdict the suspect vessel. The suspected smugglers began to maneuver aggressively in an attempt to evade interdiction and flee the scene, the Coast Guard said. Reliance ended the pursuit at 3:18 a.m. Sunday, interdicting the vessel about 40 nautical miles south of Puerto Rico.
The crew of the Reliance cutter boat boarded the vessel, detaining the two men onboard and seizing the 30 bales of the suspected contraband. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be marijuana.
The Reliance transported the 30 bales of marijuana, the two smugglers and the go-fast vessel to Ponce, located in the island’s southern coast, where they transferred custody of all three to awaiting Customs and Border Protection and ICE-HSI special agents for investigation and final disposition.
If convicted, the defendants could face from 10 years to life in prison.
Sunday’s seizure was prelude to an even bigger sea-going interdiction that took place Monday evening, when Customs and Border Protection joined Coast Guard assets and intercepted a vessel attempting to smuggle 38 bales of cocaine, totaling 2,432 pounds, with an approximated street value of $27.5 million, south of Ponce. Two men were arrested and a two-engine vessel was seized.
Near midnight Monday, a Coast Guard maritime patrol aircraft requested assistance from a Customs and Border Protection aircraft to maintain surveillance of a center-console vessel of approximately 40 feet in length, with two outboard engines and two subjects onboard, which had been observed traveling north without navigation lights. The vessel maintained a northern course through the Caribbean Sea en route towards the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
The aircraft maintained constant surveillance of the vessel as Customs and Border Protection ships from Ponce were recalled to respond and intercept the vessel for further inspection.
A Customs and Border Protection marine unit intercepted the "go-fast" vessel south of Ponce, finding two men on board who claimed to be citizens of the Dominican Republic, along with visible bales that later tested positive to cocaine.
Custody of the two men on board, the narcotics and the vessel were transferred over to special agents of ICE-HSI for further investigation and prosecution.
Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. attorney for the district of Puerto Rico, said U.S. Magistrate Camille L. Vélez-Rivé authorized a complaint charging Gregorio Rodríguez and Englis Pérez with conspiracy to import controlled substances.