DEA’s Caribbean Initiative Culminates in the Arrests of Key Members of Cobos-Munoz and Maycock/Smith Drug Organizations
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 23, 2004 – LAWFUEL – Attorney General John Ashcroft, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy and ONDCP Director John Walters today announced the indictment and arrest of Colombian drug trafficker Elias Cobos-Munoz, the reputed head of one of the largest drug trafficking and drug transportation organizations based in Colombia and Jamaica, and more than 50 other high-level traffickers. Over the past several days, agents of the DEA, assisted by their foreign law enforcement counterparts, executed arrest warrants for the members of the Cobos organization in Colombia, Panama, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the United States and Canada. This series of indictments and related arrests represents the successful culmination of DEA’s “Caribbean Initiative,” a multi-faceted attack on all levels of certain major trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean corridor. Operations “Busted Manatee” and “Double Talk” are the result of a 29 month-long international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation into cocaine and marijuana trafficking, conducted by the DEA and other federal, state and local law enforcement, working with partners in six foreign countries.
In October 2003, Elias Cobos-Munoz was placed on the Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT) List, a list that identifies those most responsible for the nation’s drug supply, and the most significant drug and money laundering organizations threatening the United States. The CPOT List is overseen by the OCDETF Program, a nationwide multi-agency task force that combines the resources of seven law enforcement agencies from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Treasury, along with state and local law enforcement.
According to the superseding indictment unsealed today, the Cobos drug organization, which was the focus of Operation “Busted Manatee,” allegedly imported large shipments of cocaine through transhipment points in the Caribbean and distributed that cocaine in the Miami area and elsewhere. Cobos’ cocaine organization is alleged to have been operating since about July 2000. The Cobos organization allegedly affiliated itself with an organization headed by Melvin Maycock and Pedro Smith. Maycock, Smith and 19 associates were targeted as part of Operation “Double Talk.” According to a separate indictment unsealed today, the Maycock/Smith organization allegedly transported cocaine and marijuana via aircraft and boat into the United States. According to the indictments, both organizations shipped multi-ton quantities of illegal drugs into the United States. The aggregate gross proceeds generated from the cocaine and marijuana imported and distributed in the United States by these organizations allegedly exceeds $275 million. According to the Cobos indictment, proceeds of cocaine sales were laundered through financial institutions in New York and elsewhere. The money laundering activities allegedly served to promote and facilitate the illegal drug trafficking activities of the organization.
DEA’s “Caribbean Initiative” strategically targeted the Cobos and Maycock/Smith organizations, as well as other Colombian North Coast cocaine organizations, by attacking the entire scope of their alleged drug and money laundering operations, from the Colombian sources of supply to the transportation cells in the Caribbean corridor to the distribution and financial operations throughout the United States. Operations “Busted Manatee” and “Double Talk” are the final two multi-jurisdictional investigations comprising the Caribbean Initiative. The Special Operations Division, which developed this Initiative, has now coordinated eight successful multi-national, OCDETF operations under this comprehensive, regional approach to international narcotics enforcement. The overall Caribbean Initiative has resulted in the indictment and arrest of four of the 41 “most wanted” drug traffickers: CPOT targets Jose Maria Henao-Mejia, Jose Arismendi Almonte-Pena, Jean Jasme-Eliobert, and, today, Elias Cobos Munoz. More than 330 drug associates also have been arrested as a result of the operations. The Henao-Mejia organization, moreover, is one of eight CPOT organizations to have been completely dismantled in 2003 as a result of enforcement efforts.
“One by one, we are dismantling the most dangerous drug cartels that poison our citizens and communities. By targeting these organizations, we are cutting off the flow of illegal drugs into America and helping secure the health and welfare of our citizens,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “Operations Busted Manatee and Double Talk are an example of our targeted strategy in the global fight against illegal drugs. Working in partnership, the United States, Colombia, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Canada, and Panama have achieved a substantial victory in eliminating a major source of narcotics to our nation. I thank all the foreign law enforcement agencies whose tireless efforts have contributed to the success of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Caribbean Initiative and to today’s indictments.”
To date, Operations Busted Manatee and Double Talk, in particular, have resulted in the seizure of 6,539 kilograms of cocaine, 2,665 pounds of marijuana, and more than $25 million in U.S. currency and related assets. Importantly, law enforcement authorities from the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Panama and Canada assisted in locating and arresting defendants in those countries on provisional arrest warrants at the request of U.S. authorities. Moreover, more than 55 search and seizure warrants were executed in the United States and abroad in conjunction with the arrests.
“These are the modern day Pirates of the Caribbean who prey on the vulnerable, plunder for profit, and intimidate through violence,” said DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. “The trafficking organizations we have dismantled were responsible for distributing three metric tons of cocaine in this country every month, amounting to at least 10 to 12 percent of the U.S. cocaine supply. We are seeking extradition of these alleged criminals to the United States so that they will answer to the courts in the same land where they profited from poisoning America’s children.”
The majority of the indicted defendants will be brought to trial in the Southern District of Florida, whose U.S. Attorney, Marcos Daniel Jiménez, along with his narcotics team, has led this effort. The superseding indictment against the Cobos supply organization, unsealed today, was filed in the Southern District of Florida on June 1, 2004. The indictment specifically charges defendants Elias Cobos-Munoz, Hernan Cobos-Munoz, Miguel Umbacia-Salgado, Jose Antonio Herrera-Hernandez and 17 other key associates of the organization with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, conspiracy to import 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and conspiracy to commit various money laundering offenses. The indictment also charges various defendants with substantive money laundering offenses. According to the indictment, this organization is believed to have generated more than $145 million in proceeds from its cocaine trafficking activities.
“The Caribbean Initiative has caused a system shock to some of the operations of some major cocaine and marijuana traffickers,” said John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “Cases like these disrupt the illegal drug market and magnify the effect of Colombia’s one-third cut in cocaine production over the past two years. Taken together, we are causing a major reduction in the flow of cocaine to the United States.”
The related indictment against the Maycock/Smith transportation organization was returned on April 1, 2004, in the Southern District of Florida. and charges defendants Melvin Maycock, Pedro Smith and 19 other key associates of the Maycock/Smith organization with conspiracy to import 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 1000 pounds or more of marijuana, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 1000 pounds or more of marijuana. Further, Maycock and other defendants are charged in the same indictment with aiding and abetting in the possession with intent to distribute of cocaine, aiding and abetting in the importation into the United States of cocaine, and other drug-related offenses.
The defendants face a maximum of life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $4 million if convicted on the drug conspiracy charges. Each faces a maximum of twenty (20) years’ imprisonment if convicted on the money laundering offenses. The money laundering charges also carry a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the offenses, whichever is greater.
In addition to the indictments filed in Florida, an indictment was returned on February 5, 2004, by a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia charging Darren Ferguson, one of the pilots for the Cobos organization, with drug trafficking. Ferguson is a Bahamian National, residing in Haiti, who allegedly flew bulk loads of cocaine from Colombia to Jamaica and the Bahamas for further delivery to the United States. Ferguson has been indicted by the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. Finally, criminal money laundering charges are also currently pending in the Southern District of New York and in the Western District of New York against other alleged associates of the Cobos organization.
The investigations were conducted by agents and analysts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Coast Guard, the South Florida Money Laundering Task Force, the New York City Police Department, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Queen’s Counsel of the Bahamas, the Colombian National Police, the Colombian Fiscal’s Office, the Jamaican Constabulary and Defense Force, the Jamaican Prosecutor’s Office, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Department of Justice Canada, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, the Panama Police, and the Panama Fiscal’s Office. Prosecutors from the United States Attorneys Offices in the Southern District of Florida, the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York and the Western District of New York, as well as from the New York Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, supported these investigations. The operations were coordinated by the Special Operations Division, a DEA-led multi-agency program.
The charges contained in the indictment are allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The following foreign and domestic agencies participated in Operations Double Talk and Busted Manatee:
Royal Bahamas Police Force
Queen’s Counsel of the Bahamas
Colombian National Police
Colombian Fiscal’s Office
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Department of Justice Canada
Jamaican Constabulary and Defense Force
Jamaican Prosecutor’s Office
Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise (United Kingdom)
Panama Judicial Police
Panama Fiscal’s Office
Drug Enforcement Administration – Miami/New York/Nassau/Cartagena/Kingston/Bogota/
Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – New York and Miami Internal Revenue Service – Miami Drug Enforcement Administration – Special Operations Division U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Florida, Southern District of New York, Eastern District of New York, and Western District of New York U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section South Florida Money Laundering Strike Force Florida Highway Patrol Broward County Sheriff’s Office Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Homestead Police Department Margate Police Department Florida Game and Fish Commission New York Police Department
New York Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor